New HIV Variant

By: Anna Boyd

Friday February 4th: In light of the recent pandemic, we have learned that viruses can mutate, telling us about more potentially harmful variants. The way that the COVID-19 virus mutated is the same way that the HIV virus that causes AIDS has now mutated.

The new variant called Virulent Subtype B seems to have emerged more than 30 years ago. Its existence however was only more recently confirmed by a team of genetic researchers, from around the world.

This new variant was not discovere3d sooner due to the lack of patients it has affected. The VB variant has only been confirmed in 109 HIV-positive patients as of today with most of them being Dutch. Even though this new strain has not affected many people it does raise some concern due to the fact that it is attacking the immune system much worse than the more common strains.

A University of Oxford Big Data Institute study author Chris Wymant tells the public that they do not need to worry based off his research in statistical genetics and pathogen dynamics. He did say that there may be more VB-patients than we are aware of currently those affected are not the only ones living with this strain.

The existing antiretroviral therapies are still extremely affective at keeping the virus contained.

This new strain is a way to emphasize the importance of being regularly tested to avoid the spread of any variant. The sooner HIV is detected in a person the better so doctors can eliminate as much damage to the immune system as possible.

A BEEHIVE project was launched in 2014 to recognize the mutations of HIV and how fast they can spread. It can be said that every individual could have a different strain of HIV. These different strains also have different effects on those taking the therapy pill and those who are not.

Much like COVID-19 HIV affects every patient in a different way. There are levels to each of these viruses. Some patients progress with treatment after a few years while others can have the same symptoms with treatment for decades.

The scientists in BEEHIVE have set out to continuously monitor the data from seven different HIV studies across the country. The final goal is to be able to identify any changes in the virus as quick as possible.

When the VB variant was first identified they could only confirm 15 patients. After a deeper dive into the data, they discovered 92 other infected patients. Those affected have around 5.5 times higher of viral loads than those infected with other known variables. Even with the new strain however, patients placed on the therapy drug have virtually the same survival rate as those with different strains.

The main message scientists are trying to push is the need to be regularly tested for HIV. Precautions are needed now more than ever to help save thousands of people from this deadly disease.

Image Credit: Oxford University

Categories: Featured, STEM

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