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Flies May Be Source of HIV

Blood-sucking flies may be to blame for the HIV epidemic being unleashed on humans, according to Gerhard Brandner of the University of Freiburg in Germany. AIDS researchers believe the HIV virus jumped species from chimpanzees to humans at some point in the first half of the 20th century, but they don?t know how it happened.

Some researchers think humans were first exposed when simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the monkey version of HIV, got into open wounds of game hunters in west or central Africa. However, German scientists think horse flies may be responsible for HIV invading humans.

When HIV was first noticed in the West, scientists were afraid that it might be spread through mosquitoes, but that proved not to be the case because they inject saliva through one tube and suck up blood through another. However, horse flies, which bite humans, could be an exception and are known to transmit the equine leukemia virus between horses.

When feeding, the flies scrape the skin to make a wound, suck up blood and then regurgitate some the next time they feed. Any viruses in the regurgitated blood can pass from one victim to another through the wounds made by the flies. If the flies sucked up virus-tainted blood from chimps, they could have transmitted it when they fed on humans.

Unlike other blood-sucking insects that regurgitate blood, the horse fly does not digest the blood it regurgitates. Brandner says, ?The anterior part of the mid-gut where the regurgitate is kept is just for storage and is free of digestive enzymes. That?s our key result, and is a precondition for transmission of HIV.?

Cases of HIV transmission via horse flies may have been going on for years but have been unrecognized. And flies are no longer the problem, now that HIV is being spread so rapidly through shared needles, HIV-positive mothers and unprotected sex.

Professor David Mabey of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Says, ?It?s an interesting theory and no more. The trouble with all these stories is that they distract attention from the main public health message, which is 90% of infections are transmitted by sex or from mothers to infants. So the message is to practice safe sex and not to worry about being bitten by flies.?

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A number of older adults over age 50 are becoming infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. For men and women, heterosexual or otherwise, and across all income levels, the HIV rate is going up alarmingly, as it is for other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10 percent of all new AIDS cases in the United States occur in people over the age of 50. People over 50 don?t realize that HIV is something they need to worry about. If they think about it at all, they?re sure it?s a problem for addicts, gays or promiscuous young people.

While men make up most of the older groups? HIV cases, the number of female infections is rising proportionally faster. Women make up a greater percentage of all AIDS cases as age increases. Kathy Nokes, of the New York task force on HIV over 50, attributes the increase to ?heterosexual women re-entering the dating field after 20 to 30 years. Gender roles have changed and women are not quite sure how to negotiate safe sex.?

Not all doctors are aware that HIV is a possible problem for their over-50 patients and as a result they don?t test for it or ask the right questions. Sometimes the symptoms of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or a thyroid condition, mask those of HIV.

Viagra makes all this worse. ?One thing you won?t spot in the gauzy, romantic ads for Viagra is a warning about AIDS,? say Leslie Laurence and Lani Luciano, who wrote the article, ?The Aging Face of AIDS.?

Pfizer, the manufacturer of Viagra, now includes safe-sex messages in its advertising and the Department of Veterans Affairs includes condoms with its Viagra prescriptions.

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