New ‘highly virulent’ HIV strain discovered in the Netherlands
Scientists have found a unrecognized variant of HIV It is more toxic than usual and has been circulating in the Netherlands for the past few decades.
Thursday’s report isn’t cause for alarm: HIV drugs work just as well in people with the mutated virus as others, and its spread has been decreasing since about 2010. It was discovered as part of an effort to better understand how HIV continues to evolve.
This finding underscores the importance of good access to tests and treatments so that, whatever the type, “HIV is suppressed as quickly as possible, which stops transmission,” said the epidemiologist. University of Oxford epidemiology, Christophe Fraser, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Different subtypes of HIV circulate in different countries, some more severe or more contagious than others. Subtype B is most common in the US and Western Europe. The Oxford team discovered 17 unusual cases while studying a European database of HIV patients, who have more compromised immune systems and are more infectious when diagnosed. is typical of subgroup B.
Since all but two of those cases were from the Netherlands, the researchers next looked at thousands of Dutch records. In the end, they identified a group of 109 people infected with what they called the VB variant, for the toxic B subtype.
The researchers reported Thursday in the journal Science.
Before treatment, people with the VB variant had more of the virus in their blood and had more compromised immune systems than people with other HIV variants, the study found. The cause of many of the genetic changes caused by the virus is unknown, but after treatment, they recovered like other HIV patients.
Joel Wertheim, an expert on virus evolution at the University of California, San Diego, warned in an editorial in Science. He’s not part of the Oxford study.
It “doesn’t seem to lead to a spike” in HIV infections, Wertheim said in an email interview. But the finding shows how much remains to be learned about why a long-spreading virus “still has the potential to evolve and adapt. As the current pandemic continues to remind us, we should not underestimate the adaptive potential of the virus. “
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