This is an excerpt of a story by Julie "JD" Davids from TheBody.com which first appeared here. Republished with permission.
World AIDS Day comes with a set of traditions: Local commemorations remember those lost to the epidemic; UNAIDS issues another report on the global impact of HIV; and a handful of celebrities use their big mics to talk about HIV for a day, or even a week (but usually not a lifetime).
There's also the tradition of the "breakthrough" story, where a particular research paper hits the news cycle lottery, captures the imagination of a media-hungry public and often gets exaggerated as far as its implications, importance or impact.
This year's story goes something like this: "HIV is getting weaker." But is it really? And if it is, what does that really mean for the fight against HIV, and for those who are living with HIV today?
What's the Story?
We summarize the study upon which this story is based on TheBodyPRO.com, but here's a quick recap: A newly published study suggests that HIV may be evolving to be less deadly. Natural selection could be "favoring pathogens that cause minimal damage," according to British researchers. The data suggest that HIV is evolving relatively quickly -- and it may be happening faster due to the use of antiretroviral therapy. Over time, it could reduce the capacity of HIV to affect human populations.
The headlines made for good World AIDS Day news: "HIV evolving 'into milder form'" declared BBC News on its website, for example. The stories in the mainstream press -- while they did point out that HIV is still very dangerous -- risked oversimplifying the study and its implications.
This is far from the first study on viral fitness that looks carefully at how HIV is mutating and seeks to calculate what it could mean for the course of the epidemic. In fact, other studies -- including those by some of the same researchers involved in this one -- have done so and gotten different results. Others, including those looking at real-world trends in CD4 counts and viral load, have even concluded that HIV may be getting stronger.
To read the rest of the story go here.