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New AIDS Strain Worries Health Professionals

Health officials in the U.S. city of New York have discovered a new strain of HIV that is drug-resistant and also causes a quick onset of the AIDS virus. Though this remains a single occurrence, the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued the alert for doctors and hospitals to watch closely for other possible cases. Health officials have not publicly identified the man whose case prompted the alert.

This new strain of HIV was found in a man in his mid-40's who had unprotected sex with other men, often while using crystal methamphetamine, an addictive stimulant. The man was diagnosed with the strain in December 2004.

He appears to have fallen ill with AIDS within two or three months, and at most 20 months, after infection. The man's HIV did not respond to three of four types of anti-viral drugs most commonly prescribed. He is currently receiving a fourth regimen of treatment.

Dennis DeLeon of the Latino Commission on AIDS says his fears of a new strain of HIV are well founded. "I was dreading this day because I knew this day would come when multi-drug-resistant strains of the virus begin to enter into a community."

While drug resistance is increasingly common among those with HIV, even among those who had never been treated before, it is not normal to have such a rapid progression to AIDS.

Jay Dobkin of the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center says, "Many of us up here remember the dark days before there was any effective treatment for HIV and I think the case this morning should at least be a reminder that those days could come back."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says they are unaware of any other case like this in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. While some health professionals do not see cause for alarm, New York City's Health Commissioner does see it as a "wake-up-call" to anyone who engages in unprotected sex and other high-risk behaviors.