Thursday, May 26, 2005

Information Technology aids spread of HIV!

May 26, 2005
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 25: It may sound strange, but rapid growth in information technology and frequent travel by software experts is affecting the tuberculosis/HIV control programme in the country.
Individuals, particularly youngsters, who travel frequently across cities are in a way helping the spread of a new strain of tuberculosis which is more dangerous than the native ancient Indian strains, according to a research study by the city-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics and Ondokuz Mayis University Medical School of Turkey.
Transmission of "Beijing strains" of TB is facilitated with "recent economic activity due to a boom in the information technology and communication sectors, where affordable air-travel has facilitated frequent movement of especially younger population, across cities," the study pointed out.
The spread of Beijing strains is slow but gradual and health planners and experts fear that they will "out-compete" the ancestral types found in India for over 10,000 years. The Indian native strains are less virulent and docile as compared with the Beijing strains. And this is a troubling news for health planners.
"The outcome could be hastened as India is witnessing a steep rise in the number of human immunodeficiency virus cases," said Dr Niyaz Ahmad of the CDFD and Hakan Leblebicioglue of OMUM School in the study published in BMC Genetics, a prestigious international scientific journal.
The study warned that synergy of TB, lead predominantly by the Beijing strains, with HIV, threatens a series of outbreaks in several years to come. "With fast spreading HIV, local advantages due to ancestral bacilli, in terms of adaptation, and possibly `reduced virulence' might be ruined. HIV through depleting the host immune cells disregards any such advantages".
India is long known to harbour reservoirs of the ancestral TB strains, which continue to predominate throughout the population. The TB bacteria, M. tuberculosis is a millennia old pestilence that continues to trouble people in the country. India also has TB bacteria diversity.
Stating that the ancestral strains bear seemingly important benefits for the TB control programs in India, the study noted that "more importantly, as a result of their adaptive evolution, the pathology triggered by them may not be lethal. The Indian strains disseminate less rapidly than the modern types like Beijing strains.
"Although Beijing strains are not an immediate threat, there is a danger that they might predominate in due course if their dissemination dynamics change with enhanced HIV transmission," the scientists said.
Of late the Beijing strains have been reported in different parts of the country with Mumbai reporting as high as 30 per cent of the total TB cases.
"It has been widely believed that India with its vast human resource in healthcare, with DOTS coverage penetrating almost countrywide, and a large national TB control program, is all set to tackle the pestilence. We caution, to prepare for the threat of institutionalised outbreaks perpetuated by newly emerging and expanding strains in synergy with HIV, that is probably looming large," they cautioned.