Even without the use of anti-retroviral medication, a group of South African kids has developed resistance against the effects of HIV, according to CNN.
HIV is a deadly virus that causes the deterioration of a person’s immunity, exposing them to opportunistic infections that is a condition medically referred to as the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
According to doctors in South Africa, this group of children, known as HIV non-progressors, will never develop AIDS.
“The critical factor was that they had very low levels of immune activation. We saw a failure of HIV to activate the immunity system,” Philip Goulder, a professor of Immunology at the University of Oxford who has been studying 170 of these children, says.
Normally, when a person gets infected with HIV, their immune system slumps, allowing the virus to flourish.
For non-progressor children, though, the immune system remains intact, keeping AIDS at bay.
According to Professor Goulder, these children enjoy improved resistance against HIV due to less infection of CD4 T-cells and reduced immune activation.
In fact, these kids have long-lived forms of CD4 T-cells, which replenish themselves continuously to ensure they remain intact and their supply doesn’t diminish.
“It’s difficult for the virus (HIV) to get in to them, so they remain relatively unscathed,” Goulder says.
Goulder’s team also contends that these children have reduced levels of a receptor protein known as CCR5, which is found on the surface of CD4 T-cells. Once HIV enters the patient’s body, it attaches to this protein in order to gain access to the CD4 T-cells and destroy them.
Unable to infect the CD4 T-cells, HIV in non-progressor children is left floating in the body; a situation that doctors say is quite unique to South Africa.
HIV Rates in South Africa
HIV/AIDS remains one of the greatest health concerns in South Africa, with statistics showing that at least 12 percent of the country’s population is infected with the virus.
The rate of adults infected with HIV in South Africa is higher than any other country in the world, according to UNAIDS. At least 18.5 percent of the adult population in South Africa has the virus.
In 2012, at least 410,000 South African children aged 14 years and below were living with HIV, but this prevalence is reported to have dropped significantly over the years due to the ongoing programs designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission.