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11 December 2006
Malaria Tag-Teaming With HIV
by George Atkinson

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington believe that malaria may be aiding the spread of HIV in areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Their study, published in the journal Science, also found that HIV may be playing a role in boosting adult malaria-infection rates in some parts of the region.

Worryingly, it appears that malaria increases the viral load of a HIV-infected person by around 10-fold, making transmission of the virus to a sex partner more likely. Conversely, HIV may play a role in the geographic expansion of malaria in Africa as HIV-infected persons are more susceptible to malaria infections due to their already compromised immune systems. The researchers estimate that tens of thousands of HIV infections and millions of malaria cases are likely the result of this co-infection.

"While HIV/AIDS is predominantly spreading through sexual intercourse, this biological co-factor induced by malaria has contributed considerably to the spread of HIV by increasing HIV transmission probability per sexual act," said researcher Laith J. Abu-Raddad.

Using HIV and malaria co-infection data from Malawi, Abu-Raddad and co-researchers Padmaja Patnaik and James G. Kublin were able to assess quantitatively the impact of malaria on HIV and vice versa, as well as provide an assessment of HIV viral load variability during HIV co-infection with some other diseases.

The study's findings lead the researchers to speculate that other co-infections such as genital herpes or tuberculosis may also be contributing to the rapid spread of HIV in Africa. "The global public-health system's failure to deal with the challenge of HIV/AIDS contributes directly to its failure to tackle other public-health challenges such as malaria and tuberculosis," Abu-Raddad warned. "As long as HIV/AIDS continues to spread, it will aggravate the difficulties we face with these other diseases and may contribute to the emergence of more lethal or drug-resistant strains of these infections," Kublin added.

Based on material from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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