Washington Post Examines Reaction to Study Tracking HIV’s Arrival in U.S. From Haiti
The Washington Post on Monday examined reaction to a recent study that found that HIV likely arrived in the U.S. from Haiti about a decade earlier than previously believed (Stein, Washington Post, 11/5). The study, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the most widespread HIV subtype outside Africa likely emerged in Haiti in the 1960s and arrived in the U.S. a few years later.
For the study, Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, and colleagues analyzed five blood samples collected in 1982 and 1983 from Haitian HIV/AIDS patients in Miami that had been frozen and stored by CDC. In addition, the researches examined genetic data from 117 early HIV/AIDS patients worldwide. The researchers examined two viral genes and compared their sequences with viruses found worldwide, using HIV samples from Central Africa considered to be some of the earliest forms of HIV as a baseline. The researchers then constructed a timeline of HIV development by measuring how much the genes in recent blood samples differed from early samples.
According to the study, samples from Haitians were genetically the most similar to the African virus, indicating the Haitian viruses were among the earliest to branch off. The researchers found a 99.7% certainty that HIV subtype B originated in Haiti, Worobey said. The mutation timeline of the virus presented in the study places the virus in the U.S. about 12 years before the disease was recognized by scientists in 1981 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/31).
According to the Post, the study's "new insights" into the genetic variability of HIV could assist in the "long-frustrated" efforts to develop an effective vaccine for the virus. "What this might tell us is how the virus might evolve molecularly," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, adding, "That might have an impact on the virus that you put in your vaccines. So this not only has historical value but practical implications for vaccine design."
The findings also have "raised concern" in the U.S. Haitian community that the results could fuel discrimination against Haitians, the Post reports. Worobey warned against blaming specific populations, adding, "The idea of blaming groups afflicted by AIDS should be something for the past." Worobey also said that it was not surprising that HIV arrived in the U.S. much earlier than previously thought, noting that it takes about a decade after infection for most people to show symptoms, which would have allowed the virus to spread before health officials detected it (Washington Post, 11/5).
Washington Post staff writer Rob Stein is scheduled to discuss the article Monday at 11 a.m. ET in a washingtonpost.com online chat (washingtonpost.com, 11/5). Questions can be submitted online before or during the chat. A transcript will be available online after the chat.