Curing HIV and Other Science in the News

Alert! The only people who should read this blog are science nerds and moms.

I read an article, a few weeks back, about a Mississippi baby who’d been cured of HIV. I was momentarily stunned by the enormity of the information in the article. Could we finally be close to a cure for HIV; finally be close to eradicating the scourge of AIDs? I googled the baby yesterday and was disappointed by what I read. You gotta love the internet, but sometimes news travels a little too quickly for truth’s sake.

The Mississippi baby did test positive for HIV but no one knows if the baby had been infected or just exposed to the virus. There’s a huge difference. A lot of scientists feel the baby had only been exposed and therefore the drug regiment stopped the baby from actual HIV infection. The blood cells infected could have been from the baby’s mom, a woman known to be HIV infected. At this point, nobody knows for certain but it doesn’t seem the word ‘cure’ is appropriate here, unfortunately.

If you are squeamish about bodily functions, please don’t read any further. The yuck factor will be going up significantly starting with the next sentence. One science article which caught my eye, and seems to be gaining steam, is an article about fecal transplants. Hey! I warned you.

I never thought, in the entire history of Jenn, I would see the words ‘fecal’ and ‘transplant’ side by side. The first time I read about these particular transplants I was amused and delighted to see such an interesting article (to me) in the Seattle Times.  When I saw another article, about a week ago, I got serious and did a little more research on the subject.

Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a spore producing (one of the 00.01% microbes which survive hand sanitizers), pathogen which can cause bloating and painful, chronic diarrhea in some people. Generally, your naturally occurring gut flora crowd out pathogens such as C. diff, but, if something (such as a round of antibiotics) wipes out said bacteria, C. diff then has free reign to wreak havoc.

Once your good bacteria has been wiped out (like most cures, antibiotics have a hard time being specific) it’s incredibly hard to get them back and working pathogens don’t like to give up their parking spaces. One answer, when everything else has failed to stop C. diff, is to undergo a fecal transplant.

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article about fecal transplants and how they are gaining acceptance in the medical world. According to the article: doctors, while trying to cure a C. diff infection, who used antibiotics say it worked 31% of the time while fecal transplants worked 94%. I wasn’t a math major but those numbers seem significant to me.

I won’t gross you out with the specifics of the procedure, if you’re really interested you can read about it here, but I will say I find this fascinating. Seriously, who knew? Reading things like this doesn’t bother me, though. I think it’s mostly because I’m a mom. Once I had a child, and went through the Volcano Butt incident, the word ‘fecal’ just doesn’t scare me anymore. Been there, done that.

jenn

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