Several people of Asian heritage in various parts of the world have been overwhelmed by AIDS-like symptoms…but are HIV-negative. Doctors don’t know why. What doctors do know is that this mystery disease is neither spread through a virus (as is AIDS) nor transferred from parent to child. The immune systems of those affected become compromised nevertheless, and patients cannot guard against germs as do healthy individuals.
Kim Nguyen, 62, for example, began to show strange symptoms later in life, such as a persistent fever, infections throughout her bones, and tuberculosis-like symptoms. “I felt dizzy, headaches, almost fell down. I could not eat anything.” She had visited Vietnam twice in 15 years.
Her physician, Dr. Carlton Hays, Jr., says, “She was wasting away from this systemic infection. 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.”
After almost a year at the National Institutes of Health hospitals in Bethesda, Maryland, Nguyen says she feels great now. Still, doctors are a little closer to finding the cause of the mystery disease.
Diversion from HIV/AIDS
HIV—the virus responsible for AIDS—harms T-cells, which fight germs. This mystery disease, however, doesn’t attack those cells. Instead, it produces autoantibodies which block interferon-gamma, which helps the body eliminate infections.
“Fundamentally,” however, “we do not know what’s causing them to make these antibodies,” says Dr. Sarah Browne of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
After conducting research involving over 200 people in Taiwan and Thailand, Dr. Browne and others are calling this disease an “adult-onset” immunodeficiency syndrome because, as in Nguyen’s case, it develops later in life for unknown reasons. They have reason to believe that many cases are mistaken for tuberculosis in some countries.
The disease has proven sometimes immune to antibiotics, leading doctors to attempt several approaches including cancer drugs to suppress antibody production. Alternative healing methods have not yet surfaced.
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