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Vaccine no replacement for HIV testing

Category: HIV monitoring/Treatment/Testing/Post Diagnos

Last month, researchers performing the landmark trial of an AIDS all caps vaccine said that the shot was successful in protecting some recipients from contracting HIV within one year of vaccination.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health help funded the study that involved more than 16,000 adults in Thailand. According to researchers, the trial of the vaccine showed that it reduced the chance of being infected with AIDS by 31 percent, the Wall Street journal reports.

"Anti-retrovirals are obviously a very important tool against AIDS, but preventing infections is the highest priority," Saladin Osmanov, coordinator of the HIV-vaccine initiative overseen by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, told the Journal.

He added, "The results from Thailand are modest, but they're a very good start."

However, the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that the protective effects of the trial vaccine fade quickly and may not be a remedy for individuals who engage in risky sexual behavior or use intravenous drugs, according to HealthDay News.

According to the researchers, "Vaccine efficacy may have decreased over the first year after vaccination, and [it] may have been greater in persons at lower risk of infection."

The vaccination studied is actually a combination of two inoculations: ALVAC, which primes the immune system for an HIV attack, and AIDSVAX, which strengthens the immune response.

Despite the apparent progress in combating HIV and AIDS, health officials are insisting that people still get regular HIV tests to know their status, since a viable vaccine on the open market may be years away.

According the United Nations, approximately 33 million people around the world were living with HIV in 2007. In that same year, a reported 2 million died from AIDS while 2.7 million more were infected.

A new take on HIV origin

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Rochester who sought to investigate how HIV infects healthy cells and uses them to reproduce found a gene in the virus that can be traced to an ancient infected tiger, HealthDay News reports.

According to Robert Bambara, chairman of the university's department of biochemistry and biophysics, the HIV virus may have adopted a small portion of the tiger's genetic material, remnants of which remain in the disease today.

Bambara and his colleagues have formed a hypothesis that the tiger may have bitten a monkey causing a series of mutations of the virus which ultimately led to the infection of humans.

The scientists say indentifying a link between the ancient tiger's gene and the modern-day virus could be useful in developing new HIV treatments, though warn that new therapy may not be available for years.

"Unless you really understand how these viruses work, the exact step-by-step chemical process, you can't really rationally design a new clever kind of therapy that may be effective against the virus," Bambara told the news source.

The need for social change

The expanding knowledge and rapidly advancing treatments for HIV and AIDS in the scientific world have done little to curb risky behavior among Americans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four teen girls in the U.S. have at least one common STD. It's also been reported that one in two sexually active young people will contract an STD by age 25.

Additional research by George Washington University School of Health and Health Services found that 3 percent of the residents in Washington DC were living with HIV or AIDS and that every mode of transmission was on the rise.

Shannon L. Hader, director of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, told the Washington Post that the rate of infections in the DC area was "on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."

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