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Search on for Carrier of New HIV Strain

Search on for Carrier of New HIV Strain

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingDoctors have become detectives, trying to find an unidentified patient from California who may be infected with a potent strain of HIV first detected in New York just over a week ago. Doctors got a sample of the virus from the unknown man's health provider. If they can find him, they believe they'll know more about a virulent strain of HIV.

A sample of the virus was sent to Virologic, an HIV lab in Brisbane. The lab confirmed and discovered that the New York virus is multi-drug resistant, it replicates quickly, and the virus infects white blood cells, by using a receptor called X4 as a door to get in.

Frederick Hecht, MD, UCSF AIDS Expert: “That is more of a threat because a virus that can use this other receptor. The X4 does tend to be associated with more rapid progression once people become infected.”

These characteristics may explain why the virus progressed so rapidly in the New York man. However, the case may be unique. The man may have also been more genetically susceptible to the disease.

But there's one factor in this case that's already known to bay area health officials as playing a major role in new HIV cases, and that's the use of crystal meth.

Frederick Hecht, MD: “So the meth epidemic really fuels this transmission of drug resistance, the selection of drug resistance.”

In 2002 crystal meth for the first time surpassed alcohol as the number one reason for admission to drug abuse treatment centers in the state of California.

Why are people turning to crystal meth? For three reasons: it's cheaper, in San Francisco, it's easier to get meth than ecstasy or cocaine, and the drug high lasts a long time -- six, eight, 12 hours! So that all contributes to the problem.

Back to this San Diego case, why haven't they been able to locate the patient? In California, they do not have confidential reporting. They have anonymous testing and the results are coded. The patient calls in to get the results, not the other way around.

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