Chimpanzees may have survived an epidemic like AIDS two million years ago, which explains why they are now immune to AIDS. This means that eventually?a long time from now?humans will probably be immune too. Chimpanzees have only half as many variations of certain anti-virus immune system genes as humans, meaning that chimps with immune systems that couldn?t fight off AIDS died out completely, leaving the rest of the species immune. “It was a surgical selection, some genes got streamlined, other types of genes weren’t affected at all,” says Paul Gagneaux of the University of California.

But the interim news isn?t so good: the miracle drugs that transformed AIDS from a death sentence into a disease people could live with are losing their effectiveness. The virus that causes AIDS is rapidly developing a resistance to antiretroviral drugs that can prolong the lives of sufferers, if they can afford them.

Investigators at medical centers in 10 U.S. cities have discovered that while only 3.4% of the new cases they tested were resistant to anti-HIV drugs from 1995 to 1998, the rate jumped to 12.2% in the years 1999 and 2000. At the same time, the rate of HIV infections resistant to more than one drug rose from 1.1% to 6.2%.

While our distant relatives may live in a world without AIDS, our friends who are infected may no longer be able to live with the disease.

How have past civilizations survived devastating plagues? To find out, read ?A Hitchhiker?s Guide to Armageddon? by David Hatcher Childress, click here.

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