HIV evolving to become 'less infectious and less deadly' after tests in Botswana and South Africa

'In the future, people could have no symptoms for decades'

HIV is reportedly evolving into a 'milder form'.
HIV is evolving into a milder form, a major study has claimed.
Researchers at the University of Oxford says the virus is becoming 'watered down' as it adapts to our immune systems.
This means it is becoming less infectious and less deadly.
With changes in the virus, it is taking a longer time for HIV infection to cause AIDS and could eventually even become 'almost harmless', according to some virologists.
The team examined the differences between Botswana, which has had a HIV problem for a long time, with South Africa, which received HIV a decade later.
They found that the ability to replicate was 10% lower in Botswana than South Africa and, according to researchers,  'that's quite exciting'.
Professor Philip Goulder, from the University of Oxford, said every so often HIV infects someone with a particularly effective immune system.
'[Then] the virus is trapped between a rock and hard place, it can get flattened or make a change to survive and if it has to change then it will come with a cost,' said Goulder.
The 'cost' is a reduced ability to replicate, which in turn makes the virus less infection and means it takes longer to cause AIDS.
When the virus is spread to other people, the 'watering down of HIV' begins.
'We are observing evolution happening in front of us and it is surprising how quickly the process is happening,' Goulder told the BBC, adding anti-retroviral drugs were also forcing HIV to evolve into a weaker form.
'20 years ago the time to AIDS was 10 years, but in the last 10 years in Botswana that might have increased to 12.5 years, a sort of incremental change, but in the big picture that is a rapid change.
'One might imagine as time extends this could stretch further and further and in the future people being asymptomatic for decades.'
The group did caution even a watered-down version of HIV was still dangerous and could cause AIDS.
Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at UK-based HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: 'This study gives an interesting insight into how viruses adapt to their environment and evolve over time.
'However, if left untreated HIV still leads to AIDS and death. Effective drug treatments mean people living with HIV today can have a near normal life expectancy and be non-infectious to others.
'Our efforts should remain focused on encouraging the quarter of people with HIV in the UK who remain undiagnosed to come forward for testing, and ensuring they have access to treatment and care as early as possible.'
More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV.
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