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10 Jul, 2016 20:27

The end of AIDS in Australia? Scientists says deadly syndrome no longer public health issue

The end of AIDS in Australia? Scientists says deadly syndrome no longer public health issue

The number of cases of AIDS in Australia has plummeted, leading its scientists to claim victory in the battle against AIDS, as it has been “pretty much dealt with” as a public health issue. However, this does not mean the HIV does not remain a problem.

At its peak in the 1990s, around 1,000 Australians were dying each year from AIDS. However, the researchers form the Kirby and Peter Doherty institutes and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations have announced that they are well and truly in control of the syndrome, with numbers being so low, they are not even recorded.

"These days we don't even monitor it, it's a transitory thing for most people; people have AIDS, then they go on treatment and they don't have AIDS anymore," Professor Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute told the ABC.

AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is a condition caused by the HIV virus. HIV works to destroy the immune system, so symptoms of the condition can vary from person to person as they stem from opportunistic infections. AIDS is considered to be the final stage of the infection, when the virus inflicts significant damage to the immune system. However people can have HIV without acquiring AIDS.

A key part in the battle has been the introduction of anti-retroviral medication in the mid-1990s, which is important to help stop those who have tested HIV positive from developing AIDS.

"It's pretty much dealt with as a public health issue," Grulich told the ABC, adding that the achievement was “nothing short of miraculous".

"The only cases we see of AIDS these days are people undiagnosed with HIV and so they can't be treated,” he added.

Despite the success in controlling the spread of AIDS, Professor Sharon Lewin, the director of the Peter Doherty Institute said that this did not mean that HIV was not a problem, with around 1,000 new cases of the infection occurring every year in Australia.

"One of the problems we still have in Australia is people not getting tested, not knowing they're infected with HIV, and turning up for their first test when they already have AIDS, or already have significant immune damage," she said.

In May, US scientists came a step closer to finding a cure for AIDS as they managed to cut out the DNA from the HIV virus from the genomes of living animals for the first time.

“In a proof-of-concept study, we show that our gene editing technology can be effectively delivered to many organs of two small animal models and excise large fragments of viral DNA from the host cell genome,” said Professor Kamel Khalili from Temple University in Philadelphia, who led the study.

Rather than having to rely on anti-viral drugs, it is hoped that scientists will be able to use “molecular scissors” to be able to delete the HIV-1 genes from a person’s DNA.