Prostitutes fight off Aids virus

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The Independent Online
TWO groups of female prostitutes in Africa have fought off the HIV virus despite repeated exposure to it, prompting cautious hopes that their immune systems may hold vital clues to a vaccine against Aids, writes Peter Victor.

Scientists from the Medical Research Council have found around 20 women in the Gambia who have produced so-called "killer" cells or lymphocytes which attack HIV in the body.

Their findings, published this week in the journal Nature Medicine, comes after work in 1993 by a Kenyan-Canadian research team which found similar immune characteristics in 25 prostitues in Nairobi. The women, from a community called Pumwani, fought th e infection despite the fact that HIV infection in the general adult population is around 60 per cent and among prostitutes between 85 and 95 per cent.

Dr Sarah Rowland-Jones, one of the MRC researchers, said: "This is an unusual and promising finding. The prostitutes carry signs of exposure to HIV and yet we cannot detect any virus in their blood."

Paul Griffiths, Professor of virology at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London, said yesterday: "Any move forward is encouraging but much more work will be required."