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Lab Study Shows Cocaine Increases Growth of AIDS Virus

October 23, 1990

ATLANTA (AP) _ Researchers say cocaine has been found to speed the growth of the AIDS virus in the test tube, prompting concern it could do the same in drug users.

Researchers with the University of Minnesota Medical School at Minneapolis took peripheral blood mononuclear cells and exposed them to doses of cocaine. The cells are a primary target for the AIDS virus.

The virus was found to grow as much as three times faster in the cocaine- laced tests.

″In persons who are infected, if they continue to abuse this drug it may have a significant impact on the development of clinical AIDS,″ said Dr. Ronald Schut.

Schut presented the findings at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology.

While about 150,000 AIDS cases have been reported in the United States, researchers say an additional million or more Americans are infected and at risk of developing AIDS.

The question now for researchers is whether drug use somehow modifies the immune system to enhance growth of the AIDS, or HIV, virus.

″The initial in-vitro (test-tube) studies suggest that it’s possible,″ Schut said.

Dr. James Curran, director of the Division of HIV-AIDS at the Centers for Disease Control, said little if any solid information is available on the risk AIDS poses cocaine users. He said drug users are notoriously difficult to study.

However, as far as cocaine is concerned, Curran said, ″I think it’s safe to recommend don’t do it.″

Further studies are under way using immune cells from drug users in a methadone program, where cocaine use is high, to see if the virus grows more easily, Schut said.

Also at the conference, doctors from Los Angeles’ Kaiser Permanente Medical Center reported that low doses of a common antibiotic can prevent a life- threatening complication in AIDS patients, pneumocystis pneumonia, at much lower cost than the widely recommended aerosol pentamidine.

Thrice weekly tablets of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, which is used frequently for mild bacterial infections, prevented pneumocystis pneumonia in 116 high-risk patients for two years, Dr. Joel Ruskin reported.

That drug can cost as little as $12 a year, while aerosol pentamidine can cost hundreds, the doctors said.

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