Researchers Discover New AIDS-Like Disease

By Amir Khan on August 23, 2012 9:53 AM EDT

doctor with stethoscope
Researchers have discovered a new AIDS-like disease that has affected people in Asia and the United States even though they are not infected with HIV, according to a new report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Researchers have discovered a new AIDS-like disease that has affected people in Asia and the United States even though they are not infected with HIV, according to a new report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The disease compromises the body's immune system much like AIDS does, but doesn't appear to spread the same way and does not appear to be contagious either. Still, researchers are unsure what is causing people to come down with the disease.

"This is absolutely fascinating," Dr. Dennis Maki, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, told the Associated Press. I've seen probably at least three patients in the last 10 years or so [who might have had this]."

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The disease affects people around the age of 50, but does not run in families. Several patients have died of infections they could no longer fight off, including some Asians living in the United States, but researchers could not say how many.

One patient, Kim Nguyen, 62, who lived in Tennessee, spent more than a year in the hospital because of the disease. She visited Vietnam in 1995 and 2009, and soon after, developed a persistent fever and infections throughout her bones.

"She was wasting away from this systemic infection," Dr. Carlton Hays Jr., a family physician at the Jackson Clinic in Jackson, Tenn., told the Associated Press. "She's a small woman to begin with, but when I first saw her, her weight was 91 pounds, and she lost down to 69 pounds."

Nguyen has since made a full recovery, but still remembers how terrible she felt.

"I felt dizzy, headaches, almost fell down," she said. "I could not eat anything."

Since the disease appears to develop in adulthood, unlike AIDS which is transmitted, researchers have named it "adult-onset" immunodeficiency syndrome.

Nearly all of the people who have come down with the disease have been Asian, suggesting that there is a genetic factor to the disease. The first case was seen in 2004, and this recent study enrolled 100 more people in six months.

"We know there are many others out there," the researchers said.

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