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Mouth bacteria may defend against AIDS virus

Bacteria in the mouth can latch onto the AIDS virus and prevent it from infecting cells -- which could help protect infants from catching the deadly virus from their mothers, researchers reported.
/ Source: Reuters

Bacteria in the mouth can latch onto the AIDS virus and prevent it from infecting cells -- which could help protect infants from catching the deadly virus from their mothers, researchers reported on Tuesday.

Two strains of Lactobacillus bacteria can hook onto HIV and stop it from getting into cells. The bacteria also cause immune cells to clump, which could be used to stop HIV-infected cells from infecting other cells, the researchers told a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.

“While studies have been done so far only in the laboratory, we believe this work opens up new possibilities for preventing the transmission of HIV through mothers’ milk,” said Lin Tao, associate professor of oral biology in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Dentistry.

“Unlike standard retroviral drugs, which are too toxic for newborns, lactobacilli are 'friendly' bacteria already inhabiting the human digestive tract and milk products, and so should pose no danger to infants.”

Preventing transmission through breast feeding
The AIDS virus affects an estimated 43 million people worldwide and has killed more than 25 million. It is passed through body fluids like blood, semen and mother’s milk.

Many babies born free of HIV are infected by breast feeding -- an estimated 25 percent in some areas. Up to 800,000 babies are infected each year globally.

Giving the mother and baby antiretroviral drugs, especially especially one called nevirapine, can protect the infants at birth, but they risk becoming infected later if they are breastfed.

“This discovery opens up a possible means of preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to infant through breast feeding,” Tao, who led the study, said in a statement.

Tao’s team studied bacteria taken from volunteers.

“The two strains were found to bind with several varieties of HIV, the related simian immunodeficiency virus, and immune cells that HIV targets for infection,” Tao said. “Further analysis showed that the bacteria inhibited HIV infection of immune cells in the laboratory.”