Mysterious illness with similar AIDS symptoms

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New immunodeficiency disorder with AIDS-like symptoms discovered

Researchers have discovered an AIDS-like immunodeficiency disorder. Scientists from the United States' National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified a previously unknown immune deficiency disorder in which numerous people in Southeast Asia are already ill. Unlike HIV infections, the disease should not be communicable from person to person.

Infections with non-tubercular mycobacteria

Infections with so-called "non-tuberculous mycobacteria" (NTM) are relatively widespread in AIDS patients, whereas people with a healthy immune system usually do not contract the pathogen. In Southeast Asia, however, increased infections with NTM have been reported for some time in people who are not infected with HIV. The research team led by Sarah Browne from the Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the NIH has now identified an antibody that "makes patients more susceptible to opportunistic infections."

More than 200 patients with puzzling AIDS-like illness examined In the course of their study, the US researchers examined 203 people from Thailand and Taiwan between the ages of 18 and 78 who suffered from conspicuous bacterial infections. "52 patients showed non-tuberculous mycobacterial infection, 45 patients had other opportunistic infections with or without non-tuberculous mycobacterial infection, nine patients had disseminated tuberculosis and 49 patients had pulmonary tuberculosis," report Sarah Browne and colleagues. 48 healthy volunteers served as control group. The researchers analyzed the patient's medical history and evaluated their blood samples. All study participants were HIV negative at the start of the study.

Unusual infections caused by blocking the interferon-gamma When examining the blood samples, the researchers focused on antibodies against cell signaling molecules such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). They were able to demonstrate that "in 88 percent of people with NTM or other opportunistic infections, antibodies blocked their own IFN-gamma". By blocking IFN gamma function, the immune system's ability to fight infection was hampered, making study participants more susceptible to opportunistic infections. "Since the average age of study participants with NTM or other opportunistic infections was 50 years, researchers speculate that the antibodies will only develop over time as a result of the combined genetic and environmental factors," the National Institutes of Health said. With the identification of the causal relationship, it could be possible in the future to address the underlying problem directly by treating the cells that are responsible for the production of the antibodies against IFN-gamma, the US scientists report.

Further studies on AIDS-like infectious diseases required So far, the researchers have not been able to clarify why the mysterious AIDS-like disease particularly affects people in Southeast Asia. Here, "further work is needed to determine why people in Southeast Asia have a predisposition to develop this autoimmune disease," explained Sarah Browne. According to the scientists, a particularly large number of mysterious AIDS-like infections have occurred in Thailand and Taiwan since 2004. (fp)

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Image: Gerd Altmann,

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