New HIV Strain is More Aggressive, is a Global Threat

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This graphic shows the three earliest stages of HIV replication. Image courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.

This graphic shows the three earliest stages of HIV replication. Image courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.

Has the war on HIV taken a turn for the worse?

Scientists in Sweden have discovered a new strain of HIV that progresses much faster than other HIV strains. The new strain, called A3/02 is a cross between two previously known strains and so far has only been found in West Africa. However, experts warn that this new strain could spread to other places like Europe and the United States.

HIV: Recombinant Strain

This new strain of HIV is called a recombinant strain, meaning that it is a cross between two other known strains of HIV. There are over 60 different epidemic strains of HIV in the world; when a person becomes infected with two different strains, the strains can fuse together and recombine, making a new form of the virus.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, recombinant strains develop faster than the parental strains from which they originated. The period from infection to the diagnosis of AIDS (when a person’s white blood cell count drops below 200) with this new strain only takes about five years; that’s about two and half years faster than previous strains. This new recombinant strain is called A3/02 and is from the combination of strains 02AG and A3, which are the most two common strains in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.

HIV/AIDS: Global Concerns?

Although this virus has only been found in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, researchers are concerned over its potential to spread around the world. Recombinant strains are often more aggressive and are increasing around the world, especially in countries with high immigration, such as Europe and the United States.

Patrik Medstrand, Professor of Clinical Virology at Lund University stated in Lund’s press release that, “HIV is an extremely dynamic and variable virus. New subtypes and recombinant forms of HIV-1 have been introduced to our part of the world, and it is highly likely that there are a large number of circulating recombinants of which we know little or nothing. We therefore need to be aware of how the HIV-1 epidemic changes over time.”

A3/02 HIV Strain Responds to Medication

The good news is that this A3/02 strain is responding to the medications that are available for HIV, according to the Global Post. The World Health Organization says an estimated 34 million people around the world have been diagnosed with HIV. Here in the United States, about 50,000 people become infected with HIV every year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bad news is that this new strain progresses faster to the development of AIDS. Once HIV has progressed to AIDS, the person’s immune system is greatly damaged and the chance for infections increases significantly. There is no cure for AIDS, but treatment options can help keep symptoms in check; without treatment, AIDS is fatal.

Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV/AIDS Statistics. (2013). Accessed December 4, 2013.

Global Post. New, aggressive HIV strain causes AIDS faster. (2013). Accessed December 4, 2013.

Lund University. New Aggressive HIV strain leads to faster AIDS development. (2013). Accessed December 4, 2013.

Medline Plus. AIDS. (2012). Accessed December 4, 2013.

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