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AIDS IS NOW SPREADING TO POPULOUS WEST AFRICA
By JAMES BROOKE, SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: April 15, 1987
LEAD: Africa's AIDS epidemic is spreading from its stronghold in central Africa to a previously untouched area - West Africa, home to almost half of sub-Saharan Africa's population, health experts in the region say.
Africa's AIDS epidemic is spreading from its stronghold in central Africa to a previously untouched area - West Africa, home to almost half of sub-Saharan Africa's population, health experts in the region say.
Prostitution, an increasingly widespread phenomenon in modern African cities, appears to be responsible for the introduction of the fatal virus into West Africa, according to AIDS researchers interviewed in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Senegal.
In the last year, health authorities have identified carriers of the virus that causes AIDS for the first time in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia and Togo.
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is an incurable disease that cripples the immune system, leaving the victim susceptible to some infections and cancers. It is caused by a virus that spreads through sexual intercourse or exchanges of blood, as in shared hypodermic syringes. 'Deadly Side of Sex'
In the United States, most of the victims have been homosexual men or intravenous drug users, and the sexual partners of people in these two groups. AIDS is believed to be epidemic in many African countries, particularly central Africa, and is believed to be spread predominantly by heterosexual transmission there.
Typically, when Nigerian newspapers announced last month the discovery of the nation's first two known AIDS victims, they were described as ''women of easy virtue.''
In the Ivory Coast and Ghana, prostitutes' customers are known to have contracted the disease.
The news that sex can have fatal consequences has caused shock waves across this region. 'Like a Wild Bush Fire'
''The deadly side of sex,'' read a headline this month to a cover article on AIDS in a Nigerian news weekly, This Week.
''AIDS: fear of the unknown'' was the headline of a recent newspaper article in the Ivory Coast after a study found that 60 percent of lower-class prostitutes tested in Abidjan, the capital, were infected with one of two strains of the AIDS virus.
In Cameroon, one journalist wrote in The Cameroon Tribune, ''The disease, said to be spreading like a wild bush fire, scared love-makers out of their wits.''
Despite the scares, health experts predict that West Africans will not change their sexual habits, for example, by greater use of condoms, in time to avoid a widespread epidemic. A Familiar Pattern
''People are afraid, but they are not well-informed,'' said Odehouri Koudou, an infectious disease specialist who heads Ivory Coast's newly formed Work Group on AIDS. ''We are seeing that AIDS is spreading.''
An article published last month in The Lancet, a British medical journal, predicted that AIDS in the Ivory Coast ''will within a few years be as high as it already is in central Africa.''
In Dakar, Senegal, Bernard Le Guenno of the Pasteur Institute, said: ''In West Africa, AIDS was not a problem. It's becoming one, and soon it will be like the rest of the world.''
The spread of AIDS to West Africa seems to follow one familiar pattern for the spread of a disease; exposure during foreign travel and then propagation through prostitutes. A Claim to Immunity
Of ei ght people who died of AIDS in Gambia in the last year, six were women who worked as prostitutes and had lived in Zaire, the United States and West Germany, countries where the virus is relatively common compared with West Africa.
In Senegal, the ei ght AIDS victims identified in the last year all had traveled or lived overseas, health researchers here say. Prostitution was involved in several of the cases, the researchers added.
In Ghana, of 107 victims of AIDS identified in the last year, about 90 were prostitutes, health officials say.
In Togo, 21 of 68 prostitutes tested proved to be carriers of the AIDS virus, officials announced this month.
Until a few weeks ago many West Africans clung to the belief that they were immune to the AIDS virus. A Mobile Laboratory
Coniecturalem artem esse medicinam
Title: HTLV-II in African prostitutes from Cameroon [letter]
HTLV-2 is endemic in some native American Indian populations and epidemic among US and Italian IV drug users (IVDU). Controversy remains over whether it is endemic in African populations. The authors provide serological evidence of HTLV-2 infection in prostitutes from Cameroon. Sera were collected in 1992 from 241 prostitutes in Yaounde and 150 in Douala for screening of antibodies to HTLV-1 and HTLV-2. 1 serum from a 38-year old prostitute from Yaounde proved to be HTLV-1 seropositive, while 3 from Douala were HTLV-2 seropositive. None of these latter 3 individuals were IVDUs. The existence of HTLV-2 in the Douala prostitutes may be due to a common geographical/ethnic origin and not to their high-risk sexual activities. This hypothesis is supported by the absence of HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 in 268 of their male clients. These findings indicate that HTLV-2 is not exclusive to the New World, but is also present in Africa in micro-endemic clusters
Coniecturalem artem esse medicinam
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