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New Immune-Deficiency Illness Emerging in East Asia
Date:8/22/2012

ely 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.

"This is a big, big finding," said Dr. Marc Siegel, associate professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.

"There's a sub-group of Asians that probably have a genetic abnormality that's making them susceptible to an auto-immune problem making antibodies to interferon," he explained. "This reemphasizes how important interferon is [to the immune system]. Basically, it stabilizes cells so viruses can't transmit from cell to cell, which obviously cuts down on viral infections."

Siegel boils it down to this: "When interferon is in trouble -- basically in this case because there are antibodies working against it -- opportunistic infections can spread."

Siegel explained how the threat posed by the IFN-gamma antibodies is different from that seen with HIV.

"In this case, the body is making antibodies against itself, and in HIV it's an actual viral infection," he said.

The study 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 of the people with NTM or other opportunistic infections had antibodies that blocked their IFN-gamma.

The researchers noted that people with NTM or other opportunistic infections tended to be 50 years of age or older, suggesting that the syndrome might develop over time.

Browne pointed out that more patients with the antibody blockers may fall under the radar of local health officials because they respond positively to antibiotics and get better. "We're only seeing the ones who d
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