A newly-discovered auto-immune syndrome has researchers slightly puzzled. A report was published on the syndrome on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The syndrome is an adult-onset immunodificiency disorder that blocks interferon-gamma, a key molecule in humans that helps immune systems work the way they are meant to. People with this new syndrome have a tough time fighting off opportunistic infections because their bodies create an antibody that stops interferon-gamma from doing its job.
Patients suffer from a particular weakness to infections because of the body’s own attack on the immune system, causing many people to compare the syndrome to AIDS, but researchers remain adamant that this is not a virus like HIV. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN:
It is not a virus, that’s the first thing. It’s not a new AIDS-like virus. It’s a syndrome that was noticed and discovered in Asia where people get opportunistic infections similar to HIV/AIDS, but the cause of the syndrome is not an infection like HIV.
The syndrome affects adults and most of the detected cases have sprung from Asia. There have only been a small number of cases diagnosed so far and all of the cases occurred in people of Asian descent. The syndrome does not appear to be genetic nor is it contagious like HIV. Researchers have not figured out how the syndrome is triggered, usually around age 50 on average, according to CBS News.
Some researchers think a severe infection might trigger a bodily reaction and cause the syndrome. The first noted case was discovered back in 2004 and now medical professionals are trying to find ways to manage the syndrome once an adult has it. CBS News notes that medical professionals have used antibiotics to control the symptoms, but they have also experimented with cancer drugs that help suppress the production of antibodies.
The newest report on the mysterious syndrome looked at cases in Thailand and Taiwan, areas where the most cases have been discovered so far. Researchers studied 200 people between the ages of 18 and 78 who were HIV-negative. Researchers still hope to uncover why and how the syndrome gets triggered.
As one of the lead researchers on the team, Dr. Sarah Browne notes, “We want to understand what triggers people to make these antibodies in the first place. And we want to use that information to guide treatment — because really, when you treat the infection you’re treating the symptom. You’re not treating the underlying cause.” Scientists working on the syndrome have quite a bit more research to conduct before clearer answers are available. For now, those people who have developed the syndrome have treatment options to keep the symptoms at bay.
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