AIDS—malaria interaction

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: March 1st, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The number of cases of H-I-V and AIDS across sub-Saharan Africa is extremely high, much higher than in many other parts of the world. Researchers have now discovered a possible new cause for the rapid spread of the disease in the region… the mosquito-borne illness malaria.

Malaria, pervasive throughout most of the African continent, is fueling the spread of AIDS by boosting levels of H-I-V in people’s bodies. Research conducted by University of Washington scientists working in Africa revealed up to a seven-fold increase in the amount of the H-I-V virus found in patients newly infected with malaria. This increase lasts up to two months, during which time the person is highly infectious.

It’s already been documented that those infected with H-I-V-AIDS are much more vulnerable to contracting malaria because of their weakened immune systems. Now it appears the two illnesses have been engaged in a decades-long deadly interplay.

In regions where both diseases exist, the co-infection could account for five percent of H-I-V infections, or hundreds of thousands of African H-I-V cases, and for nearly ten percent of malaria episodes, which translates to millions of malaria cases. Malaria may also accelerate H-I-V disease progression, leading to higher AIDS death rates.

The research, published in the journal Science, emphasizes the need for public health programs to attack both diseases simultaneously. Anti-malarial programs that encourage the use of mosquito-proof bed nets, insecticide spraying and malaria treatments must target H-I-V patients… an important step in the effort to slow the AIDS epidemic.