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YOUR HEALTH: Using a virus to stop the HIV virus

Researchers have discovered a new way to combat HIV

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new vaccine, currently in human trials, is proving to be a game changer in the fight against HIV.

More than a million Americans are living with HIV and even though there is no cure, new advances in treatments make the disease no longer a death sentence.

45-year old Maricela Berumen knows it first-hand.

18 years ago when she found out she and her husband tested positive for HIV.

"I was just thinking how quickly can I get up and go home and get my son tested."

Her son tested negative, but the risk of infection is still high. 

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University have developed a vaccine candidate that may stop HIV in its tracks by using another virus, CMV.

"So, this virus, CMV, will persist and keep stimulating your immune response and what that does is creates sort of a lifelong shield," explained Oregon Health & Science University Professor Klaus Frueh.

The vaccine was first tested on monkeys, on the monkey form of HIV called SIV.

"At least 50 to 60 percent of them will stop the infection and infection actually goes away over time," said Dr. Louis Picker, Associate Director of Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health & Science.

Now the vaccine is in a phase one clinical trial in humans.

"This is a completely new way of targeting it. That's why we think this vaccine is so unique," said Frueh.

If successful, the vaccine would be geared towards people at high-risk of contracting HIV, not those who currently have the disease. 

Through medication, Maricela and her husband have been able to control the disease.

She now sees this as a step closer to finding a cure for HIV.

"HIV doesn't have me. I have HIV. I'm not going to give up." 

The researchers say this vaccine platform can also be used on other diseases, such as hepatitis viruses, tuberculosis and even cancer.

Preventing HIV

New findings for HIV prevention have been found. 

Rather than a daily oral pill, which people are likely to miss at times, more stable alternatives have been suggested that are less frequent and therefore do not rely on the patient as much. 

Some of these alternatives are a monthly insertable vaginal ring, injections that could provide HIV prevention lasting one, two, or six months, implants that slowly release an HIV prevention drug for up to one year, or an oral pill that could provide protection for 30 days. 

These options could make protection more convenient for the patient and in turn provide a lower risk of spreading the disease. 

Researchers are also continuing to study monoclonal antibodies and whether they can be used to create a vaccine for HIV. 

They are still exploring how different combinations of several antibodies may work together in order to create a long-term preventative dosage for the HIV virus.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com