Main | Thursday, October 02, 2014

Origins Of HIV Traced To 1920s Congo

Researchers have long believed that HIV first jumped from apes to humans nearly a century ago in central Africa. Today comes a more conclusive report.
Bustling transport networks, migrant labor and changes to the sex trade in early 20th-century Congo created a "perfect storm" that gave rise to an HIV pandemic that has now infected 75 million people worldwide, researchers said on Thursday. In an analysis of the genetic history of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, the scientists said the global pandemic almost certainly began its global spread in the 1920s in Kinshasa in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Here, a confluence of factors including urban growth, extensive railway links during Belgian colonial rule and changes in sexual behavior combined to see HIV emerge in Congo's capital and spread across the globe. Oliver Pybus, a professor at Oxford University's zoology department who co-led the research, said that until now most studies have taken a piecemeal approach to HIV's genetic history and looked only at certain HIV genomes in particular locations. "For the first time, we have analyzed all the available evidence using the latest phylogeographic techniques, which enable us to statistically estimate where a virus comes from," he said. "This means we can say with a high degree of certainty where and when the HIV pandemic originated."
The above-linked report speculates that HIV first began to spread into the wider African population in the 1960s due to the reuse of needles during campaigns against other diseases. (Tipped by JMG reader Elroy)

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