Scientists discover first new HIV strain - in almost two decades
Scientists discover first new HIV strain - in almost two decades
Experts say however there’s no reason to panic.
By Nico Lang November 07 2019 10:57 AM EST
08 November, 2019, 15:43
This research marks the first time a new subtype of "Group M" HIV virus has been identified since guidelines for classifying new strains of HIV were established in 2000.
The strain was declared new after three independent cases were reported, all in the DRC.
"If you think about the amount of material in a blood sample, it's like a haystack of information that you could sequence".
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that current treatments for HIV are effective against this new strain and others. "Not a lot of people are infected with this. This is an outlier".
While subtype L appears now restricted to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the scientists said, continued molecular surveillance would be essential to determine its true prevalence and other rare or emerging strains of HIV. "This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to out-think this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution", according to Carole McArthur, professor, oral and craniofacial sciences departments, University of Missouri, Kansas City, and one of the study authors.
At present, more than 37 million people live with HIV worldwide, the most on record, with some 1.8 million new infections diagnosed in 2016 alone. "Therefore, the CG-0018a-01 sequence will be important for determining the origins and age of subtype L", the researchers noted.
Abbott had created its surveillance program 25 years ago to track changes in HIV and hepatitis viruses strains. These are subtypes A, B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K and L (which is in the news), some of which are split further into sub-subtypes.
Mr Cunningham said before Thursday's discovery there were HIV subtypes ranging from A to K, with various mutations of those subtypes themselves. The most common strain in the world is subtype C. The drugs that work on the B strain work on most others, which is what researchers are expecting with subtype L.
On mapping out the complete genome of the new strain the team was able to identify the subtype as subtype L of Group M. At present the exact effects of this strain of the virus on humans is unknown, they wrote. This strain is very rare, and expected to have the same response to existing antiretroviral therapies, which work incredibly well; if diagnosed early, HIV positive people now have almost the same life expectancy as those who are HIV negative.
"The primary concern is that HIV might evolve to the extent that testing wouldn't work", said Rodgers.
"We're making this new strain accessible to the research community to evaluate its impact to diagnostic testing, treatments and potential vaccines". She said, "We're not going to slow down. To prevent new infections, we have to understand how they have spread in the past".
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