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Contrary to long-held belief, HIV does not make tuberculosis drug-resistant

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Posted August 11, 2016

It has been believed for a long time that human immunodeficiency virus, better known as HIV, drives the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis. However, even though HIV does contribute to tuberculosis outbreaks, drug resistance is equally likely to develop to all tuberculosis patients, whether they do or do not have HIV. These findings from an international team of scientists debunk an old myth.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis kills more than a million people every year and a lot of these individuals have a drug-resistant type of the disease. Image credit: CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr. (PHIL #28), 1994 via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Mycobacterium tuberculosis kills more than a million people every year and a lot of these individuals have a drug-resistant type of the disease. Image credit: CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr. (PHIL #28), 1994 via Wikimedia, Public Domain

There is no doubt that HIV pandemic amplifies the tuberculosis epidemic, because people get co-infected. Reasons behind it include weak immune system. However, for a long time effects of HIV of drug resistance have been unknown. Scientists around the world are trying to fight both of these diseases, which is why they are trying to understand their relation better. In 2015 alone around 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis, 200 thousand of them had drug-resistant form of the disease and 400 thousand had HIV. Scientists wanted to see how HIV correlated with drug-resistance of tuberculosis and thus this research was born.

Researchers analysed the genomes of 252 tuberculosis isolates of patients from South America, whose HIV status was known. Then scientists created a model, analysing every mutation of the bacteria, trying to see, how they were sparked and shaped by external factors and relation with other viruses. Francois Balloux, one of the scientists from the study, said: “We saw no significant differences in the rate at which drug-resistant mutations occur in the genomes of strains in HIV-positive and negative patients. This suggests that drug resistance is not more likely to evolve in HIV-positive patients”.

On the other hand, this research did confirm that HIV co-infection accelerates the development of active tuberculosis, even though there is no evidence that HIV affects patient’s ability to transmit tuberculosis. The explanation is simple – HIV simple disrupts the immune system and the body becomes vulnerable to a huge variety of different infections. Therefore, tuberculosis finds more suitable hosts in places, where HIV is common.

There are many myths like this in the scientific world and it is very important that scientists would address them. Only scientifically proven information can be beneficial to other studies and only well-designed researches can create cures for diseases or prevention techniques.

Source: ucl.ac.uk

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