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New AIDS-related Illness Identified In Africa

October 30, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Researchers have linked the AIDS virus to a new fatal illness called ″slim disease,″ which is common in heterosexuals in Uganda and may be present in other parts of Africa, according to a new report.

The predominant features of slim disease are extreme weight loss and diarrhea, making it markedly different from the acquired immune deficiency syndrome seen in Europe and the United States.

″Although slim disease resembles AIDS in many ways, it seems to be a new entity,″ its discoverers wrote in the Oct. 19 issue of The Lancet, a British medical journal.

The disease is believed to have originated in Tanzania and may have been brought to Uganda by Tanzanian soldiers or traders, said the researchers, who include Anne Bayley of University Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, and Robin Weiss of the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

About 10 percent of the population of Uganda is infected with HTLV-III, and that may have been the case for 10 years, the researchers said. But slim disease did not appear until 1982, in a small village on Lake Victoria, just north of the border between Tanzania and Uganda.

AIDS and slim disease share many of the same symptoms, the researchers report, but AIDS does not generally produce the extreme weight loss and diarrhea seen in slim disease.

Victims of slim disease, on the other hand, are not as likely to exhibit the swollen lymph glands and the rare cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma that are common features of AIDS in the United States and Europe.

Not all researchers believe that slim disease is a new illness, said Dr. Timothy Dondero of the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

″It sounds to me like a variant of ARC,″ or AIDS-related complex, a poorly defined collection of conditions that resemble AIDS but are often less severe, Dondero said. He said that he could not comment in detail because he had not yet seen the article in The Lancet.

There are a variety of reasons why ARC might take a different form in Africa, Dondero said. ″Slim disease is occurring in people subject to many more environmental stresses than we are, including poor nutrition and infections that we have treatments for or which we don’t run into.″

He said the study of such heterosexually transmitted disease in Africa would contribute to improving public health in Africa and help researchers try to control the spread of AIDS in heterosexuals in the United States.

In the study, 63 of 71 patients with slim disease showed evidence of infection with the AIDS virus. Research is under way to determine why evidence of the virus did not appear in all patients, said the researchers,

A separate case of what appears to be slim disease was found in London in one patient who did not have evidence of infection with the AIDS virus. But that patient did carry an AIDS-like virus that has been isolated and is now under study, the researchers said.

The first signs of slim disease are usually intermittent fevers and a general feeling of sickness. In the second six months, gradual weight loss begins. ″Most patients at this point in time rely on traditional healers, as to many the disease is attributed to witchcraft,″ reads one report from the Minister of Health for Uganda.

After a year, most patients develop an itchy rash all over the body, the skin becomes discolored and the patients become extremely weak and die.

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