New subtype of HIV appears after almost two decades

For the first time almost two decades, scientists have identified a new subtype of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that is the cause of AIDS. The results of the study, conducted by Abbott Laboratories – specializing in HIV testing – together with the University of Missouri, in the US, were published recently in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

The new strain, classified as subtype L, is part of Group M of the HIV-1 virus, the same family of virus subtypes responsible for the global HIV pandemic. There is not only one HIV, but a variety of strains or subtypes in the world that mutate rapidly. In 2000, there were stablished a group of guidelines, and since then, no other strain in this group was found until now.

Diagnostic tests and existing antiretroviral drugs, which suppress the growth of HIV, are designed to attack the parts of the virus that are common to all groups, so researchers are not worried of the effect of the new strain. «There is no reason to panic or even worry a little», said Dr. Anthony Fauci, which is director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said the community that there is no reason to worry about this finding.

However, the finding is important because scientists need to know what strains of the virus are circulating to ensure that the tests used to detect the disease are effective. In addition, the study is expected to open a broader debate on the rules for classifying new viral strains that may arise. Researchers have said as well, that this strain is supposed to be circulating in Congo.

In order for scientists to declare that it is a new subtype, three cases must be detected independently. Two of them were found in Congo in 1983 and 1990. The last one, collected in 2001 in that African country as well.

«This discovery reminds us that to put an end to the HIV pandemic, we must continue to think that this virus is constantly changing and use the latest advances in technology and resources to monitor its evolution», said Carole McArthur, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Missouri.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) mutates rapidly and attacks the immune system of people. If it is not treated at an early stage, it can evolve into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The first cases were detected in 1980 and since then scientists have unsuccessfully sought a vaccine against the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, some 36.7 million people in the world live with HIV. According to the most recent data, some 1.8 million people were infected in 2016. Since a while ago, AIDS is no longer considered a fatal but a chronic condition, and, using outstanding advanced treatments, patients manage to live much more than before.

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