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Throughout the course of the week, I had several misconceptions corrected as well as learned a few novel things.  For example, I had thought that there were two types of HIV from two separate spillover events.  This week I learned that it is much more complicated than that, with multiple spillover events having occurred even within each type of HIV.  I was unaware of the 4 groups of HIV-1 and the 9 subtypes of group M, and how some of them are thought to be more pathogenic or progress more quickly than others.  A natural consequence of this, which we also discussed in class, is the disproportionate amount of research and funding that is focused on group M subtype B, the main agent of HIV in Europe and North America, despite the fact that subtype C is the most prevalent in the world. Most of my previous knowledge about HIV came from a course I took on the disease while studying in South Africa, so this is especially upsetting. While it seems that treatments developed for subtype B are also effective for subtype C, we are lucky that this is the case.  I also didn’t know anything about SIV before the spillover event occurred from chimpanzees to humans.  Hypotheses for how this occurred, as well as how chimpanzees themselves acquired the virus and the 40+ different species with their own SIV strains, greatly expanded my understanding of the disease at the microbiological level. I had only heard of circulating recombinant forms in vague terms, described as a reason why two HIV+ people must still take precautions against transmission. But by learning about them in specific terms and about how these recombinant forms are created, I was able to connect the idea of recombinant subtypes in humans with the same mechanism which is thought to have created the strain of SIV in chimpanzees that would eventually spill over to humans and result in the global pandemic.  I am involved in microbiology research on phages, and I still didn’t know how common it could be for these mosaic viruses to form. Other connections I made were related to genetics. As a molecular genetics major, for example, I am very familiar with phylogenetic trees and how to create and interpret them.  This week provided an excellent example of how these can be used in real life for purposes other than just exploring theoretical ancestry of major phyla.  In addition, I was able to relate the Verghese piece to my own understanding of stigma- I was actually more used to thinking of it in a South African way, in the context of denialism and poverty and in a place where a very large portion of the population is infected. The story of the small American town and the way its members reacted to one of their own members resonated with me because it reflected attitudes that I always knew were there and even hold, to some extent, myself, but that I had never personally seen manifested in such a damaging way, simply because I have not been familiar with a single person with HIV/AIDS in the US (that I know of). The story of the small town kid is likely similar to the stories of a lot of people, and made me question the stigma even further and in a more American context. 

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