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Could herpes link solve AIDS riddle?

August 12, 1996
Web posted at: 2:20 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Dan Rutz

(CNN) -- AIDS is often referred to as a deadly disease. But so far, it isn't killing Rob Anderson. He's been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus for 17 years and remains the picture of health -- with no medical treatment of any kind.

The question of how a single virus can spare a few and devastate so many has become one of the hottest questions in AIDS research.


Konstance Knox, a scientist at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, thinks she may have the answer.

"There's something else going on," she said. "There's something that we are missing that has been percolating around the field for years, and we just haven't come up with the agent until now."

Knox believes the agent -- a second virus that combines with HIV and cripples the immune system -- is a member of the herpes virus family. It's called HHV6, and it's so common, and usually so harmless, that practically everyone alive has it inside their body. But Knox and Donald Carrigan have found a more aggressive version of the virus -- herpes 6A.

"We believe that HIV catalyzes the promotion of herpes 6A," Knox said. "Herpes 6A is a massive destroyer and it kills people." (135K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

Knox believes the AIDS and herpes viruses cooperate to boost each other and tear down the body's immunity. In autopsy studies at the Medical College of Wisconsin, researchers found herpes 6A infections in tissues of every deceased AIDS patient they examined. It is reason enough, they believe, to devise new AIDS treatments.


Even Robert Gallo, one of the first scientists to link HIV to AIDS, says his experiments with monkeys appear to support the idea that a herpes virus may be involved in the development of AIDS.

"With the herpes virus, the early data is good," said Gallo, who has long repudiated speculation that something other than HIV was involved. "It's having an effect that appears to be compatible with increased progression."

Further research could determine if healthy HIV carriers like Rob Anderson are free of the herpes virus, and if new treatments targeting both herpes 6A and HIV might help those less fortunate in their fight for survival.

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