November 13, 2005

Man cured of HIV in London? Comment on recent press reports

Today has been a busy day with BBC Breakfast TV and other programmes / channels looking for comment on a story about a London man who tested positve for HIV who it is said has "cured" himself. Of course one can only comment in very general terms since so many of the facts have yet to emerge and the report was in a newspaper, not a peer-reviewed scientific research publication. I have been involved since 1987 in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and founded the international AIDS agency ACET in 1988, now a growing alliance of independent AIDS care and prevention programms in countries such as Uganda, India, Thailand, Russia and Ukraine. Over the years I have come across a number of anecdotal reports of people who appeared to be infected with HIV and then had no trace of infection, but it has not been possible to verify what has happened or recheck their results. We do know that some people have a genetic profile which gives them some protection against HIV infection.

Independent researchers will want to take a very close look at any case like this, firstly to be sure that there were no errors in the testing process, and if so, to make certain that there really is no HIV infection lurking in the background. If they are satisfied on both counts, they will try and work out what process the body has used to eliminate HIV. Antibody tests are the usual way to look for HIV infection, and measure the body's reaction to the virus. Direct tests for the virus particles themselves are more difficult and expensive, but it would be very significant if they also tested positive at first, and then negative. It is unclear from the first reports what kinds of HIV tests were positive or negative at each stage.

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