An ancient virus that has tagged along harmlessly through human evolution appears to improve people's chances of surviving AIDS by blocking HIV's ability to infect blood cells, new research shows.
Several recent studies have found that people who are infected with the recently discovered bug, called GB virus C, are substantially less likely than usual to die from AIDS. Experts assumed that GBV-C somehow interferes with HIV, but just how this protection works has been a mystery.
Now experts think they have the answer: It thwarts HIV's ability to infect cells by wiping away one of the chemical docking posts that HIV needs to make its entry.
I think we'll find a lot of subtly beneficial contagions once we seriously start to look for them. It may become common practice someday to survey the full complement of commensal flora in healthy, long-lived people to find new beneficial infectious agents -- or even to intentionally transfuse the blood from healthy, long-lived people to the young or ill, in the hopes of transferring contagious good health, even without knowing precisely which agents are salubrious. (I've written about this before, where I also suggested the term saluvirus for health-giving viruses.)