Many people wonder where HIV first came from. Even though it has been well recognized that HIV began in non-human primates, the chain of events which led to one specific strain igniting a worldwide epidemic in humans has been uncertain. However, now using the most up-to-date statistical procedures in order to investigate hundreds of inherited sequences of HIV, a group of researchers has reviewed the virus’ tracks and created a comprehensive representation of how it primarily started creeping through the population.
Their discoveries confirm that Kinshasa, which is the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was the midpoint of the HIV illness, but for the very first time scientists have also plotted out what came next. Their research report has been printed in the most recent edition of the journal Science.
The nearest relatives of the virus are the simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) that infect several various types of non-human primate species. These viruses ended up being transferred to humans over 13 times, but only one of these happenings ended up leading to the HIV epidemic. That incident gave rise to the cluster that contains the most dominant strains of HIV in the world.
These strains are more prevailing due to the fact that they are better at invading the host’s immune system, but the new investigation has highlighted the role of additional aspects such as transference and social variations that had been downplayed beforehand.
For the research study, scientists at Oxford and also the University of Leuven examined the genomes of viruses from over 812 infected persons dwelling in central Africa between the late 1950’s and 1980’s. It also included the first recorded HIV infection in the world, which was known as ZR59. It was discovered in a male subject living in Kinshasa back in 1959.
The researchers compared the sequences over time and found they were able to define viral transmutation rates and therefore the evolution rate. Because of this, they were then able to deduce a pathological timeline that extended all the way back into pre-endemic times.
Scientists discovered that a shared ancestor of HIV appeared on the the virus scene sometime between the years of 1885 and 1925. That was when the virus moved from a chimpanzee to a human being residing in Cameroon. The individual was probably a butcher or hunter who somehow came into contact with disease-ridden blood. The virus would have then possibly circulated the local region before it finally made its way to Kinshasa around 1930.
After this, the virus started to swiftly spread due in part to the building of a new railway that enticed large amounts of people to the region and also allowed infected individuals to be able to travel to other key cities in the central part of Africa. When the end of the 1940’s came around, about one million people were roaming through Kinshasa on this railway yearly, which aided in establishing minor transmission areas.
In the 1960’s, the sex industry started to flourish and drug abuse regrettably led to the use of dirty needles, which allowed HIV to begin spreading like wildfire. While scientists cannot rule out the possibility that viral changes were perhaps one key to the success of HIV, they also believe that it was a case of the virus being in the right place at the right time in history and that is where HIV really came from.
By Kimberly Ruble
Photo Courtesy CDC