The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that virus mutations can drastically alter a pathogen’s infectiousness and illness severity.
A new study from the University of Oxford has discovered a new version of HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, that is possibly more contagious and could have a more significant impact on the immune system.
The variation has been found in 109 people so far, the majority of whom live in the Netherlands.
The New HIV Strain Produces Sickness Twice as Quickly as The Previous One
According to scientists, the new strain, known as the VB variation, destroys the immune system, decreasing people’s ability to fight common illnesses and diseases far faster than earlier HIV strains.
It also indicates that persons infected with the new type are more likely to get AIDS sooner.
Researchers discovered that VB has a viral load (the quantity of virus identified in the blood) that is 3.5 to 5.5 times more than the present strain, implying that it is potentially more contagious.
Damage to the immune system happened twice as quickly.
According to the researchers, CD4+T cell decrease (an indication of HIV-related immunological impairment) was twice as fast in persons with the variation.
“These patients were prone to contracting AIDS within 2 to 3 years by the time they were diagnosed,” the study authors concluded.
Critically low CD4 cell counts “with long-term clinical repercussions” are predicted to occur 9 months after diagnosis in patients in their 30s with the VB variation if they do not receive therapy, they said.
“The potential of the VB variation to enhance transmission, impair the immune system, and stop treatment is a reminder of how clever the virus is becoming over time,” said Anthony J. Santella, Ph.D., MCHES, professor of Health Administration and Policy at the University of New Haven.
HIV Testing is an Important Tool in the Fight Against The Virus.
When asked what the variant implies in terms of testing recommendations for at-risk populations, William A. Haseltine, Ph.D., head, and president of ACCESS Health International, a global health think tank, replied it depended on people’s behavior.
Haseltine, who has written several books, including Variants: The Shape-Shifting Challenge of COVID-19, said, “I realized early in the course of AIDS that human behavior is a lot more changeable than I thought.”
It depends on your behavior and how many different partners you have, he added, adding that persons with several partners should be tested more frequently.
Former FDA deputy commissioner Peter Pitts, head of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, believes VB isn’t a cause for concern.
He stated, “I believe it is a cause for renewed concentration.” “We’ve been able to transform HIV/AIDS from a lethal to a chronic condition.”
He went on to say, “The struggle against viruses is a never-ending battle.” “From a public health standpoint, I believe we should focus on preventative care.”
Pitts went on to say that one of COVID-19’s takeaways is that testing is an “underappreciated weapon against viruses,” and that it should serve as a reminder that by testing more frequently, we can build better, more complex, and less expensive tests.
Testing and Current Therapies Will Continue to Keep the Condition Under Control.
Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, a clinical medicine professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, stated that it has been recognized for decades that some people get sick faster than others.
“The amount of virus in a drop of blood can be used as a predictor of illness progression.” The greater the sum, the more probable someone would advance and get unwell,” Fichtenbaum explained.
“We believe this is due to the type of HIV they received being more aggressive or virulent,” he said. “Regardless of the variation, our approach is the same: get tested straight away and start treatment.”
“No Indication” That the Present Medicines Aren’t Effective
He said there’s “no indication” that the present medicines aren’t effective.
According to Fichtenbaum, lowering the risk of infection starts with using a condom or other barrier technique during sex.
“Know your HIV status and those of individuals you have sex with by getting tested first; use condoms for intercourse; don’t share needles or injectable drug paraphernalia,” he said. “Those who are at a higher risk can utilize Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.”
According to Fichtenbaum, FDA-approved HIV therapies include a daily tenofovir/emtricitabine combination tablet and cabotegravir injections every two months.
“Those who have HIV can take their drugs and have a viral load that is ‘undetectable,’ which eliminates the risk of HIV transmission,” he said. “As a result of this, the tagline U=U stands for undetected equals untransmittable.”