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HIV Update: Multinational Study Enables First-Time Analysis of Earliest Stages of HIV Infection

Jun 15, 2016 06:21 AM EDT

A new multinational study has successfully investigated for the first time the virological and immunological changes due to HIV, before the onset of clinical symptoms and commercial HIV testing windows.

The study, dubbed as "RV 217" in Tasmania, is a joint project of the German Center for Infectious Research and their partner institutions in Tasmania. The study was first launched in 2009 with a primary goal of developing a cure for the dreadful infection.

Over the course of the study, more than 2,000 people exposed to high risk of HIV infection were tested twice a week in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Thailand. According to a press release, the testing method used in the study is the specific, highly-sensitive method called APTIMA. This method has the ability to detect very low concentrations of around 20 copies of HIV ribonucleic acid (RNA) per milliliter of plasma. By using this method, the researchers were able to confirm 112 new cases of HIV infection only after five days of transmission.

50 of those 112 participants were involved in a much detailed study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, by the same researchers.

"Conducting this study was very challenging", commented Dr Inge Kroidl, clinical research coordinator of RV 217, in a statement. "We had major doubts about whether the study participants who were members of very mobile and partially stigmatised high-risk groups would be willing to participate in such a complex study."

What makes this different from other HIV studies is the presence of early-stages of HIV infection. Other studies involve people who were already suffering from the symptoms or had contacted the infections several weeks earlier.

For the RV 217 study, researchers analyzed collected data on the course of viraemia and immune reactions during the acute stage of infection in order to determine the exact period of time between contracting the infection and peak viraemia, which is about 13 days.

The researchers also discovered that the viral-load set point, or the period of time be-tween the highest and lowest values was 31 days. During the set point, the levels of viraemia can determine whether the HIV infection will be rapid or slow.

The study is very important because it might offer new insights in the possible effects of retroviral drugs during the early stages of HIV infections, that may in turn lead to the development of a potential cure for the deadly disease.

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