HIV and mothers’ milk: As luck would have it
October 28, 2013 Editor 0
Protect and survive
BAD though it has been, the AIDS epidemic would have been a great deal worse but for a strange and unexplained quirk. Infected mothers, it was feared, would transmit HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, to their children when suckling them. Mothers’ milk carries the virus, and suckling may last two years—which is plenty of time for transmission to happen. And indeed it does, but not nearly as often as was originally suspected. Less than 10% of infants suckled by untreated infected mothers (those not on antiretroviral drugs, which suppress the virus’s reproduction) pick up HIV.Why that should be has remained mysterious. But Genevieve Fouda of Duke University, in North Carolina, and her colleagues think they have the answer. If they are right, many children have been spared AIDS by a fluke—but a fluke that could be used to develop a new weapon to attack it.Clearly, something in milk disables HIV. Previous experiments had identified proteins that do this to a certain extent, but nowhere near enough to explain all the data. Those earlier searches must therefore have missed something crucial. Dr Fouda, as she describes in the…
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Categories: The Economist
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