Drug-resistant HIV strains turning up in China

By Tan Ee Lyn

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Drug-resistant HIV strains are turning up in parts of China as the virus stretches beyond high-risk groups and gains a stronger foothold in the general population, a leading Chinese AIDS researcher said.

Chen Zhiwei, director of the AIDS Institute in Hong Kong, described the trends as “alarming” and warned that Chinese AIDS patients could get in trouble because there were very few HIV drugs available in China.

“All these drug-resistant mutations are in China now, they are emerging in Chinese patients. The major worry is whether the drug-resistant virus (strains) will spread,” Chen said.

“We are studying whether that is happening, but that will be the case if you don’t provide proper treatment,” he told Reuters.

“If drug resistant virus (strains) spread in China, we don’t have enough selection of (drugs) that are made available,” Chen said, adding that researchers had urged China to import more varieties of HIV drugs.

China has only seven of the more than 20 different HIV drugs available, which means patients end up with limited options once they develop resistance to certain drugs.

Although HIV infection is incurable, cocktails of the drugs can control the virus. But drug adherence is bad in China’s rural regions due to poor patient knowledge, inaccessible healthcare and a lack of health workers to explain to patients the importance of keeping to drug regimens.

Chen’s warning comes after he and his colleagues published an article in Nature last week, detailing how HIV infections were rising sharply among women and gay and bisexual men in China.  Continued…

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