Asian AIDS

Lets call is Asian AIDS or A2IDS.

A new 2012 scourge of Mankind is emerging in the Far East (or is that the Far West for us Californians?) Well, it’s something new to worry about, along with asteroids, nuclear fallout, global pandemic, Mayan curses and all the other 2012 hoopla.

It looks like AIDS… but it isn’t.

The person’s immune system goes down (fails) but they don’t necessarily die.

Most importantly, it’s NOT a viral infection. There is no HIV (or at least all patients are HIV negative).

Still, it’s a massive new alarm.

The new syndrome, which does not seem to pass from person to person, involves an immune-blocking antibody that knocks out a fancy protective molecule called interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), triggering a disease almost indistinguishable from AIDS.

Opportunistic infection become very dangerous and what might have been a harmless sore throat could become a deadly terminal infection. One of the problem pathogens showing up is nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), a rare cousin to tuberculosis that can cause severe lung disease.

NTM and other opportunistic diseases often are seen in people with immune deficiency, but are rare in those with healthy immune systems. Researchers in countries such as Taiwan and Thailand have recently reported several cases of NTM in people with no history of immune-system problems.

Dr. Sarah Browne, lead author of a new study, which was published Aug. 23 in the New England Journal of Medicine, can’t name the problem. But she’s smart enough to realize that it could be tied to environmental factors. Remember the furore with Peter Duesberg (which hasn’t gone away, incidentally) saying that AIDS is caused by self-inflicted recreational chemicals and not some mutant virus?

Over the decades I’ve watched how xenobiotic chemicals damage the immune system. I think Duesberg is closer to the truth than the cronies milking the AIDS epidemic. But of course the powerful AIDS lobby isn’t going to see its billions of dollars profit jeopardized by mere science.

Browne, who is assistant clinical investigator at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Md., said although some people with the A2IDS problem become extremely ill and may die, others experience a long-term, chronic disease that waxes and wanes. And although some are susceptible to infectious illnesses, others develop auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus instead.

The new study this week involved 203 participants from Thailand and Taiwan between the ages of 18 and 78; 52 had NTM infections, 45 had other opportunistic infections (some also with NTM co-infection), 58 had tuberculosis and 48 were healthy. All were HIV-negative. The researchers checked blood samples for antibodies and found 88 percent (nine out of ten) of the people with NTM or other opportunistic infections had antibodies that blocked their IFN-gamma.

The age group seemed to be 50 years of age or older, suggesting that the syndrome might develop over time.

What’s really crucial in this story is that we may just be seeing the tip of a very large iceberg. Those who get infections but which respond to antibiotics would simply get well and never be spotted.

Those who are showing up on the radar are only those for whom antibiotics didn’t work.

That’s a scary thought.

[SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, online edition, Aug. 22, 2012]