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Jakarta school hiv 2011 12 02
A sign promoting HIV counseling service in Indonesia. (ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

HIV made deadly strain of Salmonella, researchers say

A Salmonella outbreak in Africa can be traced back to HIV.

Beginning in the 1960s, a deadly strain of Salmonella Disease has swept across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been much more common and deadly in Africa than on other continents. Now, scientists have found an explanation for why that may be. In a study published today in Nature Genetics, researchers say that the Salmonella strain was essentially created by HIV.

This finding provides the first evidence that HIV might be allowing new human pathogens to evolve, New Scientist reported

To conduct the study, the scientists looked at the deadly strain, called Salmonella Typhimurium. In sub-Saharan Africa, a new form of that germ first emerged 52 years ago, the AFP reported, around the same time that HIV developed. 

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"It quite clearly parallels the emergence of HIV in Africa," Professor Gordon Dougan from the Sanger Institute in Cambridge told BBC News. HIV attacks the immune system, leaving people vulnerable to infections. The researchers think that the Salmonella Typhimurium "took advantage" of this vulnerability. The HIV virus therefore gave the Salmonella the opportunity to "enter, adapt, circulate and thrive," researchers told the BBC.

While there is little data about how many people are affected by the infection, Dougan says that it affects "thousands and thousands" of people in Africa, mostly those suffering from HIV, the BBC reported. Researchers think that the infection could become less common through HIV treatment and prevention.