Date Published: 29 July 2005

Health Protection Agency and HIV Charities concerns about drug-resistant viruses

Health News from the United Kingdom (UK).

UK Health Experts have warned that viruses cannot be destroyed by commonly used drugs are a worrying possibility for the future. In particular, scientists from the Health Protection Agency ( have stated that there are increasing numbers of people who have with forms of HIV which are resistant to multidrug treatments. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is is an independent body that protects the health and well-being of everyone in England and Wales.

The HPA said it will be monitoring this situation closely and will issue a report this autumn outlining the the situation concerning drug-resistant viruses.

Threat from drug-resistant viruses

Professor Peter Borriello, the director of the HPA's Centre for Infections, said it was not a case of whether we would see resistance, but when. He said that resistance is inevitable, and is already a problem with HIV:

" If you look at HIV, which is the most devastating viral infection to emerge, it is quite obvious that the longer the treatment, the higher the risk."

The HPA and other research institutes tracked resistance to antiviral drugs among 4,450 HIV patients over six years.

Drug-resistant viruses affecting HIV patients

There are approximately 60,000 people in the UK with HIV. In 2003, about 35,500 were on the most potent treatment known for HIV, a cocktail of three drugs collectively called HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy).

Among newly diagnosed HIV patients who have not yet started any drug treatment, the drug resistance rate is thought to be about the same, one in five, suggesting resistant strains are being transmitted from person to person.

  • After two years on HAART, 10% of the patients had developed some resistance to the drugs, rendering them ineffective.
  • After four years, 20% had resistance, and after six years, the drugs no longer worked in 30% of the patients.

Aggressive action on HIV

Scientists are urgently seeking new drugs to treat HIV. Another option being considered is treating HIV aggressively as soon as it is diagnosed. That is, professionals are considering treating people with early HIV immediately with aggressive HAART therapy for a year, even if their immune status was still at a very good level and the amount of virus that they had was fairly low.

Professor Pat Troop, chief executive of the HPA, said they were also working with countries where HIV is a bigger problem, such as South Africa, to make sure that rolling out more drug treatment did not lead to more resistance.

Lisa Power, head of policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, said:

" It's extremely important for people to realise that HIV drug resistance can be transmitted as part of the virus.
_ Everybody who is diagnosed with HIV should automatically be checked for resistance before they are put on any treatments in order not to waste their health or the NHS's money.

She said much of the HIV data was historical and at a time when the importance of proper treatment management was poorly understood.

She added that:

" We now know how vital it is to take treatments at the proper times and new treatments have been designed to be much easier to take."

Other viruses also developing resistance

  • For hepatitis B, which causes liver disease, about 20% of strains have now found a way to evade the drug most commonly used to fight the disease. In addition, another 5% have found ways to resist newer hepatitis B drugs.
  • About 1% of strains of the virus that causes flu are now resistant to drugs such as Relenza and Tamiflu, said Professor Borriello.

The above was widely reported in the UK media.

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