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Treatment advances have made it possible for people with HIV to survive much longer, but many develop memory and thinking problems, mood swings and other types of mental impairment as they age, the study authors said.
It's believed that long-term infections with other viruses -- a common problem in people with HIV -- may affect the brain. One of the prime suspects has been the hepatitis C virus, which infects about one in three HIV patients in the United States, according to background information on the study.
The study was published recently in the journal Neurology.
"Hepatitis C infection has serious long-term side effects, such as damage to the liver, but our research indicates that it does not affect the brain," lead author Dr. David Clifford, a professor of neurology and medicine from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a university news release.
He and his team will now focus on immune responses triggered by HIV in the brain and the bowel during the initial stages of infection. These early immune responses may trigger chronic inflammation that harms the brain.
"If a hepatitis C infection gets to the point where it damages liver function, the resulting inflammation might well contribute to mental impairment," Clifford said. "Beyond that, though, it doesn't seem to be an active collaborator in the harm HIV does to the brain."
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Washington University, news release, December 2014