Cocaine gives AIDS a kick-start - The Borneo Post - Monday, 18 February, 2002

WASHINGTON: Cocaine not only makes people act recklessly - having unsafe sex that can lead to HIV infection - it can also give the virus a kick-start, scientists have reported.

Tests in mice show that cocaine helps the virus spread faster in the body, killing off more immune cells and reproducing 200 times faster than usual.

"Cocaine not only influences risky behaviors, it also has a direct and profound effect on the AIDS virus," Dr. Gayle Baldwin, an AIDS researcher at the University of California Los Angeles who led the study, said in a statement.

The spread of the virus and its effects on immune cells known as CD4 T-cells are directly related to how sick a person becomes with HIV infection.  Baldwin knew that people who use drugs are more likely to become infected with HIV.

Moreover, she knew this was also the case specifically with cocaine, which is not usually injected - the usual route of HIV infection for drug users.

"There were some studies done quite some time ago that suggested a correlation between cocaine use and the progression of disease in HIV-positive individuals," Baldwin said in a telephone interview.

She also knew that cocaine can affect the immune system.  Writing in the online edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases, Baldwin said she and colleagues tested specially bred mice that are infected with the a human AIDS virus.

Half the mice got daily injections of liquid cocaine and half got salt water.

They tested the mice 10 days later. "We saw a 200-fold increase in AIDS viral load in the blood of the animals injected with cocaine compared to those that received the placebo," Baldwin said.  Reuters