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HIV Evolves to Evade the Immune System

HIV replicates rapidly with several billion new viruses made every day in a person infected with HIV. What makes HIV so difficult to stop, however, is its ability to mutate and evolve.

Reverse transcriptase, the enzyme that makes DNA copies of HIV’s RNA, often makes random mistakes. As a result, new types or strains of HIV develop in a person infected with HIV. Some strains are harder to kill because of their ability to infect and kill other types of cells, while other strains replicate at faster rates. The more virulent and infectious strains of HIV are typically found in people who are in the late stages of infection. Different strains of HIV can also recombine to produce an even wider range of strains. In essence, HIV is constantly changing and trying to evade the immune system. Its ability to evolve rapidly is one of the major reasons why HIV is such a deadly virus.

Last Updated March 30, 2009

Last Reviewed March 30, 2009