HIV The Origin and Evolution of a Virus

In This Chapter

^ What AIDS is

^ Where HIV came from and how it infects people ^ How HIV evolves in an individual patient ^ Research on treatments

Smallpox. Influenza. Cholera. Syphilis. Yellow fever. Measles. Typhus.

Plague. Malaria. Every age — and region — has its scourge, and some have more than their fair share. You may think that some these diseases are of the past (or of undeveloped countries) and that they don't really affect you. But when it comes to viral infections, no society or region is off the hook. Case in point: the appearance in the early 1980s of a new disease: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

AIDS scared the bejesus out of people. It was deadly. It was painful. And in the beginning at least, no one knew where it had come from or how it was spread. Fast-forward nearly 30 years. Scientists know quite a bit more about AIDS now than they did then. They know what causes it (the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV), where it came from (other primates), and the path that the disease takes when it enters a human body.

How do they know all this stuff? By knowing how viruses work and by studying the evolution of the human immunodeficiency virus itself. Evolution is important in understanding HIV at many levels — from the origin of the virus to the disease process within a single patient to the development of effective treatment options.

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