Experts warn of new drug-resistant HIV

Infectious-disease specialists are advised to perform drug-resistance tests.

Anna Weggel

.Although there are a number of drugs that can be used to treat HIV, a new strand of the disease has the capacity to mutate so it can resist some of these drugs, experts say.

After multiple reported cases of the new HIV strain nationwide, Minnesota Department of Health officials have been informing infectious-disease specialists about this type of HIV and suggesting drug-resistance tests for all newly diagnosed HIV patients.

University epidemiology professor Alan Lifson said one way infected people can develop this resistance is to not consistently adhere to their medical regimens. Resistant strains can also be passed from one patient to the other, he said.

“A person who’s never received drugs could get a resistant strain,” he said. Lifson said testing for this type of HIV can be beneficial.

“The current recommendations are that if somebody has a primary HIV infection, that drug-resistant testing be strongly considered for this individual,” he said.

If someone is already on treatment but not responding to it, doctors will use resistance testing, he said. Resistance testing determines whether a patient responds to certain kinds of treatment drugs for HIV.

Lifson said that at the moment, resistance testing is a growing concern. “It’s important that patients not miss any dosages of medications, because if they do, there is the possibility of it developing added strains of resistance,” he said.

Lifson said the most-effective way for people to protect themselves against this problem, besides not getting infected in the first place, is by reducing any unsafe sexual behavior. With the new strain of HIV, Lifson said, the virus is not something to be taken lightly.

“The report reminds people how deadly serious HIV is,” he said. “If somebody engages in unsafe behaviors, including unsafe sex, it could have potentially very dangerous consequences.”

Ryan Sunderman, a Boynton Health Service HIV peer educator, said that although the number of HIV-infected people in Minnesota is lower than in other states, such as California and New York, people can still get it.

“(The study) shows why it’s important for people to use condoms to protect themselves from HIV,” he said. “The virus is out there.”

Sunderman said Boynton offers free HIV testing for any student who pays Student Services Fees.