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Heavy drinking can hasten the progression of the simian immunodeficiency virus disease

oads in the blood in the early months after being infected with the virus. This higher viral load is associated with more rapid disease progression in both SIV-infected rhesus macaques and HIV-infected humans. Because SIV infection in rhesus macaques is so similar to what happens in HIV infected humans, we can expect that alcohol would have similar consequences in humans."

"The study gives us one more piece of the puzzle about the complex effects of alcohol on the progression of HIV disease," said Bryant. "What people don't realize is how complex the life cycle of the virus is and how it interacts in a very directed way with host characteristics such as drinking. We want to lengthen the life of HIV-infected individuals so that they can live a life as anyone with a chronic disease that needs to be managed. If these findings are confirmed in HIV+ individuals, the prevention implications are that both past and current alcohol use impacts disease progression and that many additional years of life will be lost if one continues to drink while infected."

Bagby noted that although his study implicates alcohol abuse as a cofactor in accelerating SIV disease progression and, by extrapolation, HIV disease the exact mechanisms by which this occurs remain unclear.

"Each episode of alcohol intoxication can suppress multiple elements of immune function in humans," he said. "This suppression can be largely responsible for the increased incidence of infections such as pneumonia. However, chronic alcohol consumption can also stimulate the immune system, leading to diseases like hepatitis. In this case, perhaps both effects of alcohol are involved: immunosuppression could increase the incidence of opportunistic infections, and immune stimulation could activate cells infected with the virus, causing more cells to become infected."

Notwithstanding what mechanisms may be involved, both Bagby and Bryant said that HIV+ individuals
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24-Sep-2006


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