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Scientists join forces to explain HIV spread in Central and East Africa
Date:9/29/2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Scientists studying biology and geography may seem worlds apart, but together they have answered a question that has defied explanation about the spread of the HIV-1 epidemic in Africa.

Writing in the September issue of AIDS, a research team led by scientists at the University of Florida explained why two subtypes of HIV-1 the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS held steady at relatively low levels for more than 50 years in west central Africa before erupting as an epidemic in east Africa in the 1970s.

Essentially, the explanation for the HIV explosion obscured until now involves the relative ease with which people can travel from city to city in east Africa as opposed to the difficulties faced by people living in the population centers of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the point where HIV emerged from west central Africa in its spread to the east.

Later, as the epidemic raged in the east, cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo a vast country almost as big as all of Western Europe remained disconnected and isolated, explaining why the virus affected only about 5 percent of the country's population, a level that has not changed much since the 1950s.

"We live in a world that is more interconnected every day, and we have all seen how pathogens such as HIV or the swine flu virus can arise in a remote area of the planet and quickly become a global threat," said Marco Salemi, an assistant professor of pathology, immunology, and laboratory medicine at the UF College of Medicine and senior author of the study. "Understanding the factors that can lead to a full-scale pandemic is essential to protect our species from emerging dangers."

Investigators used databases, including GenBank from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, as well as actual DNA samples, including samples recently collected in Uganda the vicinity where HIV entered east Africa
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert  

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