Team Thinks It Cracked an HIV Mystery

Genital disease may explain why majority of Africa's AIDS victims are women

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted May 11, 2014 3:33 PM CDT

(Newser) – Why are 60% of Africa's AIDS victims women when in the rest of the world, the majority are men? For researchers, it's a longstanding mystery—but Norwegian experts working in South Africa have a theory. A disease called genital schistosomiasis, or "schisto," can lead to vaginal damage that may boost susceptibility to HIV, the New York Times reports. And the disease, spread through worms in river water, has affected about 200 million Africans.

Genital schistosomiasis can lead to sores which may offer HIV a route into the body. And worms and eggs in these sores attract the same cells attacked by HIV, the Times notes. Women with these sores face about three times the risk of HIV faced by their neighbors, studies suggest. The good news: An eight-cent pill can kill the worms. But while a number of leading organizations, including the UN, are funding research into the matter, not everyone is convinced. "We need to track all these things down and see what’s a cause and what’s just another disease you have at the same time, like cervical cancer," says the executive director of a top AIDS-fighting agency.

Activists of a non-governmental organization display red ribbons, a symbol of HIV-AIDS awareness, during an awareness campaign on World AIDS Day, in Bangalore, India, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013.
Activists of a non-governmental organization display red ribbons, a symbol of HIV-AIDS awareness, during an awareness campaign on World AIDS Day, in Bangalore, India, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
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