A mysterious new AIDS-like disease has shocked scientists. Unlike HIV, the virus many people think about when hearing about a deficient immune system, the mechanism behind the AIDS-like disease is not contagious by any known means. So far, the disease has been found in the United States and Asia with a higher and almost exclusive incidence in Asians.
Researchers are finding that in all compromised patients, the immune sytem shows classic signs of being damaged, rendering it unable to fend off pathogens as would be seen in a healthy person.
The disease is not communicable between humans nor does it seem to have an inherited quality, it is not congenital. What is being seen is that without HIV, and any other established mechanism of auto immune disorders, patients are having their immune systems compromised.
“This is another kind of acquired immune deficiency that is not inherited and occurs in adults, but doesn’t spread the way AIDS does through a virus,” stated Dr. S. Browne, a female disease specialists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Browne and her colleagues first pinpointed the disease in Taiwan and Thailand, where it seems to occur the most since it was first identified 2004.
While the mechanism of occurence is still being researched, some scientists looking into this issue will evaluate if a specific disease or pathogen could trigger the immune system breakdown.
Most patients afflicted with this diseaese are around 50-years-old and the disease does not seem to run in families, decreasing the likelihood of a single gene error being reponsible for the disorder. At worst the AIDS-like disease has caused patients to die from overwhelming infection.
As documented from a recently diagnosed patient:
Kim Nguyen, 62, a seamstress from Vietnam who has lived in Tennessee since 1975, was gravely ill when she sought help for a persistent fever, infections throughout her bones and other bizarre symptoms in 2009. She had been sick off and on for several years and had visited Vietnam in 1995 and again in early 2009.
“She was wasting away from this systemic infection” that at first seemed like tuberculosis but wasn’t, said Dr. Carlton Hays Jr., a family physician at the Jackson Clinic in Jackson, Tenn. “She’s a small woman to begin with, but when I first saw her, her weight was 91 pounds, and she lost down to 69 pounds.”
Nguyen (pronounced “when”) was referred to specialists at the National Institutes of Health who had been tracking similar cases. She spent nearly a year at an NIH hospital in Bethesda, Md., and is there now for monitoring and further treatment.
“I feel great now,” she said Wednesday. But when she was sick, “I felt dizzy, headaches, almost fell down,” she said. “I could not eat anything.”
AIDS is a specific disease, and it stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. That means the immune system becomes impaired during someone’s lifetime, rather than from inherited gene defects like the “bubble babies” who are born unable to fight off germs.
HIV typically works by destroying T-cells, the foot soldiers of the immune system. The new mechanism behind the AIDS-like disease seems to cause an increase in autoantibodies, effectively destroying the body’s immune system over time.
In a small study of over 200 patients with AIDS-like disease, the process of infection is blocking their production of interferon-gamma, a necessary chemical signal the body uses to clear infections.
This leaves the body vulnerable to fungus, molds, parasites, virii and bacteria. Sine the onset of the illness is usually seen in adults, for now it is being called “Adult Onset” Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
To date, some cancer drugs have been effective in inhibiting the autoantibodies, allowing the immune system to fight off infection. Though the syndrom appears chronic in nature, once treated with cancer drugs and an immune response is illicitied, it seems the disease is ‘tamed’. Researchers are finding the disease to be primarily found in Asians and Asian-Americans, though not familial. This can indicate a specific gene-set and exposure nature that triggers the illness.