Expats here who are sex tourists to Cuba have an additional worry.
An aggressive form of the human immunodeficiency virus has been discovered in Cuba. It develops into full-blown acquired immunodeficiency syndrome within just three years. Researchers said the progression happens so fast that treatment with antiretroviral drugs may come too late.
Cuba has become the sex tourism location of choice for some foreign residents here due to the relatively low cost of travel there. There also are suggestions that a few islands in the Communist country are not closely watched by the puritans in Havana.
Anne-Mieke Vandamme said Cuban health officials first alerted her about the aggressive form of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. They asked for help in finding out what was happening.
“We have a collaborative project with Cuba and the Cuban clinicians had noticed that they recently had more and more patients who were progressing much faster to AIDS than they were used to. In this case, most of these patients had AIDS even at diagnosis already,” she said.
been HIV negative tested one or a maximum two years before,” she said.
She said that on average, without treatment, human immunodeficiency virus infection takes 5 to 10 years to become full-blown AIDS. That’s determined by the scarcity of CD-4 immune cells and the number of opportunistic infections a patient has.
Usually, she said, a fast progression of HIV to AIDS is more a result of the patient’s weak immune system rather than the particular subtype of HIV involved. What’s happening in Cuba is different.
“Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant, tried to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes,” she said.
Professor Vandamme said, “Another thing was that they had much more virus in their blood than the other patients. So, what we call the viral load was higher in these patients. “
The good news is that the aggressive form of human immunodeficiency virus responds to most antiretroviral drugs. The bad news is people may not realize they have full-blown acquired immunodeficiency syndrome until it’s too late for therapy to do any good.
Professor Vandamme said the variant has been seen before in Africa, but there were very few such patients and it does not appear to be spreading there. However, it is in wide circulation now in Cuba and now can be easily studied. So, there may be an African link, but further study is needed.
She said it’s vital for people having unprotected sex with multiple partners to be tested early and often.