UNC awarded $3.5 million to study HIV transmission prevention among newly infected

July 30, 2009
A team of researchers from the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases has received a $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study HIV prevention methods among people with acute HIV infection (AHI).

Dr. William Miller

Dr. William Miller
Dr. Audrey Pettifor

Dr. Audrey Pettifor

Co-principal investigators of the study are William Miller, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology in the School of Medicine and the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Audrey Pettifor, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology in the public health school.

The four-year study will involve developing a new program that identifies and informs people with acute HIV infection, and implementing and evaluating combined behavioral and antiretroviral therapy interventions. The research will be conducted at UNC Project, the Institute’s research, care and training facility in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Acute HIV infection is the period between infection and detection of HIV antibodies and lasts up to 12 weeks. During this brief window of time, the virus replicates rapidly, and the probability of transmission is very high. People in this stage of the disease may be responsible for a substantial proportion of onward transmission of HIV infection, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Miller said.

“There is no ‘magic bullet’ to prevent HIV infection,” said Miller. “Successful prevention programs will require combining prevention strategies. In this study we will try to reduce transmission from newly infected people.”

Pettifor said identifying people with AHI and intervening to reduce onward transmission represented a tantalizing – but, until now, untested and unproven – opportunity for HIV prevention.

“If we find that acute infection contributes considerably to the spread of HIV, then a combined behavioral and biomedical intervention has the potential to significantly reduce new infections,” Pettifor said.


UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu.