September #39 : Bubonic Tonic - by Scott Hess

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Talking 'Bout Their Generation

Youth to Youth

Bargaining Power

Growing Up in Public

Liver Worst

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Blood Lines


To the Editor

And on the 7th Day...

In the Sack

Vertex Vortex

Pump and Grind

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Death by Bureaucracy

Bubonic Tonic

Say What

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All Apologies

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Spin and Needles

No Miss Manners

HIV Confidential

Making a Scene


Presidential Nemesis

Are the Kids Alright?

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Don’t Make Me Over

Confessions of a Jerk

Life Lessons

Quality Time

Valuable Kitchen Tool

Better Safe Than Sushi

The Heart of the Matter

To C or Not to C

The Circle Game

Youth on Drugs


Making the Grade

Finger on the Pulses

Fountain of Youth

Where to find it

Reality Check


Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

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September 1998

Bubonic Tonic

by Scott Hess

Proof’s in the plague

Check your roots: If your ancestors survived the Plague, you may have inherited a gene that can resist HIV.

The CCR5 gene—which normally ushers HIV into the immune system—can in rare cases mutate and confuse the virus so it can’t pass through. While studying the genetic makeup of thousands of AIDS trial subjects and honing in on those with CCR5 mutations, National Cancer Institute (NCI) biologists found the gene primarily in Caucasians, but not in native Africans and East Asians. So, when was the last epidemic that wiped out a mess of white folks and could have spurred a fighter gene? “Seven hundred years ago…the Bubonic Plague,” said NCI molecular biologist Steve O’Brien. The 14th-century Plague annihilated about one-third of the Euro population. This, O’Brien said, explains why up to 15 percent of white people— but not Africans or East Asians—have the mutation. “It just hit me in the face,” he said. “It wasn’t an idea. It was an accumulation of data.”

Harvard Med School’s Jerome Groopman, MD, termed the gene-tracing discovery “historical speculation” and questioned CCR5’s significance. “HIV evolves in a clever way and can find portholes of entry other than CCR5,” he said, adding that some strains of HIV can infect people with the mutation.  

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