Humans have hunted and handled other primates for thousands of years.Anyone who was bitten or scratched, or who cut himself butchering an animal, could have gotten infected.Brett Tindall, an AIDS researcher at the University of New South Wales, as he was preparing a routine update on transfusion-related HIV infections last year. And seven to 10 years later, none has suffered any effects.
A few researchers are now trying to exploit that very talent, using drugs to force HIV to mutate until it can no longer function.After tracking him down, Tindall learned, to his amazement, that the man was just as healthy as the people who got his blood. "We also know that a few patients remain well for long periods, but we've never known why. I think we've found a harmless strain."He may also have found the viral equivalent of a fossil, a clue to the origin, evolution and future of the AIDS epidemic.HIV may not be a new and inherently deadly virus, as is commonly assumed, but an old one that has recently acquired deadly tendencies.In a recent survey of 472 blood samples drawn from primate handlers, health officials found that three of those tested positive as well.No one knows whether the people with SIV eventually develop AIDS, but the potential for cross-species transmission is now clear.