Scientists Study Chinese AIDS Patients Who Appear To Have Resisted SARS Infection
Scientists are studying a group of several dozen Chinese AIDS patients who appear to have resisted infection with the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus, even though they were treated in the same ward as SARS patients, Long Island Newsday reports. At the peak of the SARS outbreak in Guangzhou, the southern Chinese city in which the epidemic is thought to have started in November 2002, patients with the then unidentified "mystery" illness were treated on the same hospital floor as AIDS patients. While SARS patients were treated on the opposite side of floor, doctors and nurses traveled back and forth between the groups, treating both groups of patients. Although some of the health care workers developed SARS, none of the several dozen AIDS patients or any of their HIV-positive visitors developed the disease. Dr. Cheng Feng of the China/UK HIV/AIDS Project speculated that the antiretroviral drugs that are used to treat HIV/AIDS could block SARS infection. Dr. Yuen Kowk-yung of the University of Hong Kong and Dr. David Ho of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center are exploring the possibility that antiretroviral drugs could protect against SARS. A Chinese AIDS advocate who asked to be identified only as Thomas said that the relationship between the two diseases may be more complicated. Most Chinese patients only have access to the cheapest and least effective antiretroviral regimens. These antiretrovirals target a chemical that is not present on the coronavirus that has been identified as the cause of SARS, Thomas said, according to Newsday.
Weakened Immune System Provides Protection Against SARS?
Scientists have speculated that the SARS virus does not actually kill human cells but provokes an overreaction in the immune system. The immune system is thought to destroy cells in the lungs and other parts of the body, causing acute pneumonia. Because death due to SARS may be the result of an overactive immune system response, scientists speculate that HIV patients' weakened immune systems may put them at a lower risk of developing the disease. The theory is supported by the fact that the most effective treatment for SARS thus far is steroids -- drugs that stifle the immune response (Garrett, Long Island Newsday, 4/30).
World, Media Overreaction Could Hamper Containment Efforts
Ho and fellow AIDS researcher Dr. David Baltimore on Monday said that panic and overreaction to SARS could "overwhelm common-sense measures for containing the virus," Reuters/Boston Globe reports. Baltimore, who is president of the California Institute of Technology, said that "sensational" media coverage about SARS has "fanned the flames" and has given the public an unrealistic sense of the disease's dangers. Although nearly 100% of people with AIDS who do not receive medication die from AIDS-related causes, only 6% of SARS cases are fatal. In addition, there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS 20 years after the first case was discovered (Reuters/Boston Globe, 4/29).