CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Researchers at the have been awarded a $3.5 million grant to study means of preventing further HIV infection by people have recently become afflicted with the deadly disease.

The National Institutes of Health is funding the four-year program. Research will be conducted at UNC Project, a facility operated by the UNC-CH institute in the African country of Malawi.

The study will focus on people with “acute HIV infection” (AHI), which occurs between infection and detection of HIV. During this period of time, which can last up to 12 weeks, the virus replicates rapidly and the chance of transmission is very high, according to the institute.

UNC-CH researchers hope to develop a program for identifying and notifying people with AHI then implementing and evaluating behavioral and antiretroviral therapy.

William Miller, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology in the School of Medicine and the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC, is co-principal investigator for the study.

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

The other co-principal investigator is Audrey Pettifor, professor of epidemiology in the public health school.

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