Doctors say a growing number of strains of the AIDS virus are becoming resistant to many of the drugs used to treat the disease. A study in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found one in six newly infected patients had drug resistant viruses.
Pictures of AIDS patients serve as a stark reminder of the toll AIDS continues to take. The good news is the number of people dying from the disease is declining, thanks to the increase in drugs to fight the AIDS virus. Doctors have 12 major AIDS drugs to choose from. Often patients are given a combination of three to fight off the virus. Studies have shown the combined therapy is more effective in reducing the number of viruses in the body. But it comes with a high price. "There are studies that show 30 to 50 per cent of people fail therapy because of their development of drug resistance," said Rockefeller University's Dr. Daniel Boden. The patients in the study had full-blown aids.
Researchers at the Aaron Diamond Aids Research Center wanted to know to what extent drug resistant AIDS viruses were being transmitted to other people. So they analyzed the virus for resistance to one or more of the AIDS drugs in 80 patients who had recently been infected with HIV. "The overall prevalence of drug resistant virus was 16 per cent, which is quite high, and multi-drug resistant virus was found in 3.8 per cent," said Dr. Boden. Researchers caution they studied the virus primarily found in white homosexual men. They say more studies are needed to determine drug resistance among viruses that are common in other groups. "The practical consequences of our studies will be or should be that as soon as a patient with a primary HIV infection comes in, drug resistance testing should be done," said Dr. Bowdin. "Initial therapies should be started from multiple drug classes, and the subsequent therapy should be tailored according to the results of the drug resistance testing," he said.
Researchers say testing all HIV resistant viruses should be cost effective. However what's not clear is whether that testing will extend or even improve the quality of life for AIDS patients. Doctors underscore the need to develop new AIDS drugs which attack the AIDS virus in a number of ways, so the virus can be eliminated before it becomes resistant to any drug.