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AIDS Virus May Be Weakening

HIV Evolving but Still Packs Lethal Punch

Adapting to Human Hosts

But lots of other retroviruses already have adapted to humans, says Cleveland Clinic AIDS researcher Miguel E. Quiñones-Mateu. Our genes carry RNA from many different retroviruses.

"We have a lot of retroviruses that have been in our genome for millions of years. And they do no harm," Quiñones-Mateu tells WebMD. "What we will see in the future is more and more people with HIV behaving like long-term nonprogressors. And eventually the virus will attenuate enough so nobody dies."

The catch: This isn't going to happen right away.

"We have seen only a tendency, a trend," Quiñones-Mateu says. "It could take 100 years, it could take a million years, but that is what is going to happen."

"The question is whether it is thousands of years or decades," Vanham says. "The suggestion of our study is that we are talking about decades. We are already seeing evolution. But this does not mean the virus is so weak that newly infected people will no longer get disease."

Vanham notes that the study looked at only one strain of HIV, in only one country. He says he'll feel more confident about the findings if studies of other HIV subtypes show the same evolutionary trends and if clinical studies detect a lengthening time from HIV infection to AIDS.

Vanham and colleagues' report -- and an editorial comment by Quiñones-Mateu -- appear in the Oct. 14 issue of the journal AIDS.

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