HIV | KUOW News and Information


It's one of the biggest medical mysteries of our time: How did HIV come to the U.S.?

Scientists say they have figured out when and where the virus first arrived here by genetically sequencing samples from people infected by the virus early on. In the process, they have exonerated the man accused of triggering the epidemic in North America.

When you're pregnant, going to the doctors can be exciting. You get to find out if you're having a boy or a girl. Maybe hear the baby's heart beat.

But in southern Africa, many women find out something else.

Allison Groves at American University recently ran a study in a town outside Durban, South Africa. They followed about 1,500 pregnant women. The results left her speechless.

Every night at 8 p.m., 18-year-old Catherine Msimango takes a pill.

It's the same pill that people with HIV take to fight the virus. Only she doesn't have HIV.

Msimango says the pill gives her power against the virus. She can take it even without her boyfriend knowing.

"It's all about my safety because I don't know what he does when I'm not around," she says. "If he doesn't want to use protection [a condom], I know that I'm safe from the pill."

When a Connecticut woman who was HIV-positive died earlier this month, her family decided to donate her organs to others who needed them.

Doctors in Maryland announced Wednesday that they performed two landmark, successful surgeries with her kidney and liver — transplanting the organs to HIV-positive patients.

Earlier this week, officials at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore announced they had received approval to begin conducting the first organ transplants from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients. This comes after a 2013 change in the law that lifted a ban in place since 1988.

Surgeons at Johns Hopkins say that they are ready to begin performing liver and kidney transplants as soon as the appropriate candidates are available.

There's a place in the city of Tijuana, Mexico, called El Bordo, which has always been somewhat reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic movie scene. The name comes from "the border," which is where it's located: right by the fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico, among the enormous paved canals that run through Southern California like concrete veins. Hundreds of people live in those canals, often in makeshift tents, the smell of sewage made ripe by the hot Tijuana sun. It's a place where many deportees try to get by. It's also a site of heavy drug use.

Dr. David Rawlings (left) and Dr. Andrew Scharenberg (right) pioneered a gene editing method that gives human T cells the ability to resist HIV and either kill HIV or tumors. The research could have clinical applications in as early as a few years.
Courtesy of Seattle Children's Research Institute

Ross Reynolds speaks with Dr. David Rawlings, director of the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies at Seattle Children's Research Institute, about how his team pioneered a breakthrough gene-editing technique that could help patients with HIV, genetic blood diseases and certain cancers. Their study was published in the September issue of Science Translational Medicine.

Transgender people are not getting adequate health care, and widespread discrimination is largely to blame, according to a recent World Health Organization report. And the story is told most starkly in the high rates of HIV among transgender women worldwide.

JoAnne Keatley, one of the authors of that study, puts it plainly.

Marcie Sillman speaks with Vaughn Palmer, columnist for the Vancouver Sun, about successes in British Columbia's fight against HIV and AIDS.

Shane Avery practices family medicine in Scott County, Ind. In December, a patient came to his office who was pregnant, and an injection drug user.

After running some routine tests, Avery found out that she was positive for HIV. She was the second case he had seen in just a few weeks.

"Right then, I kind of realized, 'Wow, are we on the tip of something?' " Avery says. "But you just put it away. ... It's statistically an oddity when you're just one little doctor, you know?"

Blood drive sticker from the Red Cross.
Flickr Photo/Maia C. (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Jeannie Yandel talks to Randall Russell, CEO of Lifelong, about the FDA's announcement that it will recommend the lifting of a ban on gay and bisexual men who want to donate blood. The decision will be put up for public comment in 2015.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee says by the year 2020, he wants to cut the number of new HIV infections in half.

He was sitting in a clinic. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting for his grandparents' HIV medicine.

Sizwe Nzima was a high school student in Cape Town, South Africa, when he would pick up the medicine for his HIV-positive grandparents, who had difficulty traveling to the clinic themselves. Because of the long lines, Nzima usually waited hours and often made multiple trips to the clinic before and after school. He tried to bribe the pharmacists to get the medication sooner. But it didn't work.

Phelokazi Tinzi met the man of her dreams at a barbecue.

She was 28 years old, and visiting her cousin in Cape Town, when her future husband approached her. "He told me I was beautiful, but I thought he was just saying that to every girl," she said. But she gave him a chance – and her phone number. A few weeks later, they were engaged.

Marcie Sillman speaks with reporter Levi Pulkkinen about why King County Public Health officials decided to place an HIV-positive man under court supervision.