Scientists study possible new HIV strain in NY
WASHINGTON - Scientists said on Monday they were studying a potentially new virulent strain of the AIDS virus taken from a New York man to see if it posed any public danger.
Tests will include a close look at the genetic sequence of the virus to see if it is unique and perhaps has developed a more efficient way of infecting cells and progressing to full-blown AIDS.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden publicized the case on Friday, saying the patient was a methamphetamine user who appeared to be infected with a strain of the virus that not only resisted most HIV drugs on the market but may damage the immune system more quickly than normal.
"This case is a wake-up call. First, it's a wake-up call to men who have sex with men, particularly those who may use crystal methamphetamine," Frieden said in a statement.
Some AIDS activists criticized the health commissioner, saying he was causing undue panic before he had all the facts.
"Rather than increasing awareness of the risks of unsafe sex and crystal use, the Health Department risks stigmatizing gay men as crazed drug addicts carelessly or wantonly spreading a killer bug," the New York Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project said in a statement issued on Monday.
"The history of the AIDS epidemic has taught us that misinformation spreads more quickly than the virus itself."
Other health officials said they were concerned.
"Certainly CDC is alarmed by the apparent intersection between two dangerous conditions -- multidrug resistance and apparent rapid progression," said Jessica Frickey, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.
A spokesman for the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York said scientists there were having samples from the patient tested. More information was expected on Tuesday.
"The patient is a male in his mid-40s who reported multiple male sex partners and unprotected anal intercourse, often while using crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth). He was first diagnosed with HIV in December 2004 and appears to have been recently infected," the New York Health Department said in a statement.
The AIDS virus mutates easily and patients often develop strains that resist the drugs they are taking. Such strains of multidrug-resistant virus can also be passed to newly infected patients, and several groups have reported on HIV patients who have drug-resistant infections before they take any of the cocktails of medications used to control the virus.
Dr. Susan Little and colleagues at the University of California San Diego found in 2002 that drug-resistant HIV was affecting as many as one in five newly infected people in the United States.
The CDC has said it was researching reports that methamphetamine users may be more susceptible to HIV infection, although it is not clear if that is due to behavior or something the drug itself may do to alter the immune system.
But HIV infects immune cells, and a patient's genetic makeup or overall health can affect how quickly an HIV infection develops into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, not a disease in itself but a susceptibility to a range of infections from pneumonia to cancer.
New York officials say more than 88,000 New Yorkers are infected with the AIDS virus, which has no cure, and estimates 20,000 more are infected and do not know it.