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Scientist Takes One Step Forward, One Step Back in AIDS Treatment

Posted October 14, 1998

— People who are battling AIDS may be losing ground. A researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill has found the first evidence that HIV is mutating into strains resistant to new drug cocktails.

There's been so much progress in fighting AIDS, but these findings are a setback.

Until now, there was no sign the cocktail drugs did anything but prolong the lives of people with AIDS, and improve the quality of those lives.

Mike Buono takes 12 pills a day to help his body fight AIDS. He must take them at specific times and never miss a dose.

"I live by a clock, now. I mean I'm constantly watching a clock," Buono explained.

Doctors say missing a dose or stopping and starting the drugs again can be dangerous.

The study shows people who take these drugs can sometimes develop mutant strains of HIV which are then resistant to treatment.

UNC's Dr. Joseph Eron studied 11 men over a 58-week period. All of the men were infected with HIV.

Eron discovered the drug treatment combination called the cocktail doesn't work for everyone. Eron says when the combination does not work, patients develop resistant strains which can then be spread to others.

"The important point is that a consequence of not responding to the cocktail is development of resistant virus. And the consequence of developing resistant virus is the virus can be shed, and then spread sexually," Eron explains.

In light of the study, doctors now worry about whether patients coming in for treatment have one of the mutant strains.

As a result of the findings, drug companies are working on tests so they can find out if new patients are infected with a mutant strain of the virus. Without that knowledge, doctors could end up treating people with drugs that will not work for them.

Patients who don't get the most potent drugs or who don't take their medicine regularly, are at the greatest risk of developing mutant strains.


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