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NEW VIRUS THWARTS HIV



HIV-positive people co-infected with another mysterious virus called GB virus C (GBV-C) may be less likely to develop AIDS and die, suggests a new US study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.



When GBV-C was first noticed about 10 years ago, researchers assumed it would only make people’s HIV conditions worse. They were very surprised to find that co-infected patients actually fared better. In fact, GBV-C seemed to protect them from AIDS. One study showed that, after six years, 75 percent of people co-infected with HIV and GBV-C were likely to survive-compared to just 39 percent of people not carrying the mysterious second virus.



Understanding how this virus protects against AIDS and death could lead to new ways of fighting HIV infections, says Jack Stapleton at the University of Iowa, one of the study’s senior authors.



“Until now, there have been many doubting Thomases who didn’t believe this viral antiviral effect even existed,” notes Roger Pomerantz of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “This puts an end to the debate.”



Stapleton says he plans to conduct more experiments in the coming months.



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NEW HIV SUPER-STRAIN



Meanwhile, in other AIDS news, a super-strain of HIV surfaced in New York City, Feb 11. Doctors say the aggressive super-strain (called 3-DCR HIV) isn’t responding to three classes of anti-retroviral medication. It also seems to speed up the progression from the onset of HIV into AIDS. Doctors diagnosed the strain after a gay man in his mid-40s apparently contracted HIV late last year then, within just a few months, developed full-blown AIDS. The man reportedly had unprotected anal sex, often while using crystal methamphetamine. Doctors say the man’s immune system may have been weakened by drug use. While drug resistance is increasingly common among patients who have been treated for HIV, cases of 3-DCR HIV in newly-diagnosed, previously untreated patients, are extremely rare. And doctors say this combination of drug resistance plus the rapid progression to AIDS may be a first. “This case is a wake-up call,” says New York health commissioner Thomas Frieden. “It’s a wake up call to men who have sex with men, particularly those who may use crystal methamphetamine.” The gay community successfully reduced its risk of HIV in the 1980s, he says, and now it must do so again to stop the spread of drug-resistant strains. Health officials are now trying to locate and test the man’s many sex partners.



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ANY LIBERAL LIBERALS LEFT IN VICTORIA?



Why are all the progressive provincial Liberals leaving Gordon Campbell’s party?



Gay politician Ted Nebbeling and progressive politico Judith Reid were the first to announce, last January, that they would not run in the next election (Nebbeling said it had nothing to do with being dropped from cabinet after marrying his longtime partner).



Former NDPer Greg Halsey-Brandt and progressive politician Val Anderson soon followed. Then came September and the resignation from politics of Christy Clark, a gay-positive senior cabinet minister who was often touted as potential successor to Campbell.



Finance Minister Gary Collins, the second most powerful provincial politician behind the premier himself, was next up, quitting his job Dec 14.



That leaves few liberal Liberals in Victoria, with the party now firmly dominated by more rightwing politicians like the very conservative Solicitor General Rich Coleman.



Meanwhile, Gordon Campbell has pledged his future support to former Surrey School Board chair Mary Polak as she seeks yet another nomination for the spring 2005 provincial election. (She lost an October Surrey by-election to NDP candidate Jagrup Brar.)



On a brighter note, Dan Jarvis, the longtime Liberal MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour, recently won a nomination challenge from Cindy Silver, a former staff lawyer for Focus on the Family Canada, a Christian group that vigorously opposes gay rights.



-Gareth Kirkby



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MORE LIGHTS NEXT CHRISTMAS?



It seems the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) is planning to hang more lights on its trees before next Christmas, after customers complained to merchants about the lacklustre showing this year. The BIA has worked hard in the last few years to create a playful, distinctive identity on the Davie St strip-something that reflects the diversity of the West End and the key role the Village plays as the capital city of gay Vancouver. While the pink bus stops generated much attention last Pride, it seems the white tree lights barely made an impression on the public. The BIA has been told by city hall that it can add many more lights per tree, but it will cost the merchants. No word yet on whether the BIA will consider saturating its branches with cheerful strings of rainbow lights, as the city of Richmond recently did.



-Gareth Kirkby