Irish Examiner: How to beat colds and flu this winter
AGNES Munyiva is a prostitute. Over the course of the last 30 years has had (unprotected) sex with more than 2,000 men in a slum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
And yet in a country with a HIV positive rate of about 7%, she has not got infected.
Agnes was juts one of a group of prostitutes that scientists from the University of Manitoba first came across when conducting research on STIs in the area in the 1980s.
Such was the researchers’ fascination with the women that they decided to stay on, offering free health care in exchange for research subjects.
Though not their initial aim, the researchers discovered that some prostitutes were immune from HIV and in a study published in 2012, they concluded that the prostitutes’ ability to fight off the virus was down to unique proteins that were found in their bodies.
The study was groundbreaking. Not only did it shed light on HIV/AIDS but also on the complex world of viral infection and the immune system.
According to Cliona O’Farrelly, professor of comparative immunology at Trinity College Dublin, the first thing we must realise is that no two individual immune systems are the same.
“There are huge differences in each individual’s ability to respond to either bugs or the environment or stress,” she points out.
“Because of that our immune systems react very differently and so we ourselves end up in different states of health or disease.
“You start off with a set of genes, a code for different types of immune cells and different types of immune molecules and some genes produce more or better of those cells or molecules.”
In other words, some people are just born luckier than others.
“It’s clear that some people are resistant to viral infections that other people get,” she continues.