Why is finding a cure for HIV so hard?

What causes HIV?

HIV/AIDS is an acquired immunodeficiency disease which is caused by a virus that is transmitted when there is a transfer of bodily fluids from an infected person. The most common form of transmission is through having unprotected sex and the sharing of needles with an infected person; the people most at risk of this are injection drug users and sex workers. HIV can also be transmitted through pregnancy and breastfeeding but not through the air, water or insect bites.

Types of HIV 

There are two types of the HIV virus, we have HIV-1 and HIV-2, HIV-1 is the most common in the world, it is the most virulent. HIV- is mainly found in West Africa and is less virulent. 

How does HIV attack the Body? 

The HIV has three enzymes, reverse transcriptase, integrase, and Protease. HIV is a retrovirus, it uses RNA as genetic material and after infecting the host. It uses Reverse transcriptase to convert the RNA genetic material into DNA. So when the cell divides the HIV virus divides with it, normal DNA replication has proofreading ability that is designed to stop mutation.   

When the HIV reverse transcribes in your DNA the cells loses that ability to proofread, so when the cells together with HIV virus replicates, different varieties of the virus are produced. This is why it is currently impossible to formulate medications that deal with a specific type of HIV virus in the body. This is why the medications (ARVs) or anti-retrovirus drugs work by inhibiting the function of the enzymes with the HIV virus.

Cells Targeted 

Imagine being attacked by aliens, and the first thing is to do is attack the military and police by infecting them with Gastroenteritis. Well, this is cunning nature of the HIV virus it first attacks the CD4 cells, which are the only cells in the body that have the receptor to for the HIV virus. CD4  cells are the body’s switchboard when it comes to the immune system; antigens have to be detected by them for the immune system to be activated.

Once they have been detected by the CD4  cells, the CD4 cells then help the B cells make antibodies, recruit macrophages which eat up cellular debris,  basophils, and neutrophils to the site of infection.

 This is why when you go HIV test they check your CDT count, the normal range is between 500-1500. In HIV infected persons the number can drop to 200, but the good news is that with aggressive anti-retrovirus drugs the CD4 cells count can be increased. 

Why is it hard to treat HIV

  • Firstly, the body cannot keep up with the rapid replication of the HIV virus, in the end, the immune system becomes overwhelmed. When this happens, HIV will progress to AIDS. 
  • Secondly, the HIV virus has a tendency of hiding in pockets of the cells like the macrophages where the virus cannot be detected by the immune system or biological testing. This is why HIV medications have to be taken for life.
  • Thirdly, the virus tends to change its programming very fast to evade it being destroyed by the immune system.
  • Finally, it targets the CD4 T cells, cells responsible for activation of other immune cells. The reduction in the immune system will lead to individual developing strange cancer like Kaposi’s Sarcomas. Some people experience constant fatigue and weight loss known as wasting syndrome.  Once the HIV has progressed to AIDS, the survival rate is 3 years.

Epidemiology 


Current Research

In 2017, a brand new type of HIV vaccine went into phase II after trials during the first phase showed that it is safe to use in humans. The new vaccine was tested for its effectiveness in prevention of the disease on 600 people in North America. 

Team leader for the trial  Chil-Yong Kang said: “before people get too excited, phase I trials were only set up to show that the vaccine was tolerated well in the human body, they did not test to see whether it can prevent people from getting HIV”.

But the very fact that they have to phase II is trial should be cause for optimism. Currently, condoms, abstinence, and widespread screening and education remain the only way we can prevent people from contracting HIV/AIDS, especially in countries where HIV/AIDS is a public health issue.   

In 2018, human trials of the vaccine showed that it was able to produce anti-HIV immune system response in 369 people.

Previous vaccine attempts have concentrated on specific strains found in certain parts of the world. The hope with this vaccine is that it could offer protection against a wide range of HIV strains found around the world.

The vaccine concept is currently in phase 2b trials in sub-Saharan Africa.

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