HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, is evolving and becoming less deadly, new research has revealed.
When a person becomes infected with HIV, the virus attacks their immune system, and weakens their ability to fight infections and disease. It can rapidly mutate to evade each individual’s immune system, so when it infects someone with a particularly effective immune system it has to change in order to survive. This change usually results in a reduced ability to replicate, meaning the virus becomes less infectious.
As this weakened version of the virus spreads, the cycle gradually becomes watered down and it takes longer for HIV to cause AIDS, its final stage that stops the body from being able to fight life-threatening infections.
A study of more than 2,000 women in Africa showed how the virus is changing. HIV’s ability to replicate was much lower in Botswana, which has had an HIV problem for a long time, when compared to South Africa, where the virus arrived a decade later. Drugs are also thought to be forcing HIV to evolve into a milder form, and scientists hope it could eventually become mostly harmless in the future.