Researchers ID New Strain of HIV

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday November 7, 2019

Researchers at Abbott - the health care company that screens and monitors much of the world's blood supply to help ensure it is free of blood-borne pathogens like hepatitis and HIV - say that technological advances have allowed them to identify a previously-unknown strain of the virus that causes AIDS in several samples that have been stored for years.

The previously-unknown strain is the first to be newly identified in 19 years, reports Scientific American.

The oldest of the samples had been stored since 1983, the Scientific American article noted, while a second sample had been stored since 1990. But it was a sample from 2001 that first keyed researchers in. The strain - which remains rare and is still mostly confined to Central Africa, where the virus first crossed over into humans from simians - had eluded detection as a distinct variant on the virus due to limitations in earlier testing technologies.

HIV, like other viruses, mutates over time. The virus' adaptability - and the diversity of its strains - has contributed to the difficulty of developing a cure or a vaccine. Though HIV can currently be controlled in many cases, and the viral load kept to such low levels that the virus is virtually intrasmissable, the fact is that several strains of HIV are known to exist, noted CNN.

The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, offered assurances that the new strain need not cause alarm.

"There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit," CNN quoted Fauci as saying. "Not a lot of people are infected with this. This is an outlier."

An article at political news outlet noted that:

It's not currently known if the new subtype affects patients with the disease any differently, and it is thought that the strain responds to existing HIV treatments that can drive the virus to undetectable levels in the body.

Though researchers do not think the new strain in itself does not pose significant new hazards, they pointed out that the discovery underscores the need for continued monitoring of the virus, in case new variants arise that are more wide-spread and that could be resistant to the drugs that are currently used to keep the viral loads in check among people who are living with HIV.

"Viruses break through all the time, and we're not ready to deal with them," Scientific American quoted professor Jonah Sacha, who is with the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, as saying.

The study was published on Nov. 6 in the Journal of Acquired immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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