Scientists Discover New, More Aggressive HIV Strain

Scientists are reporting they have discovered a new, more aggressive strain of HIV in West Africa. According to ABC News, this new strain, known as A3/02, is a cross between two previously identified HIV strains.

Lund University researchers wrote in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that the "infection moves from HIV to full-blown AIDS in about five years, nearly two- to two-and-a-half years faster than most previously known strains." This new strain is known as a recombinant, which, according to TIME, appears when a person becomes infected by two different strains, "allowing DNA to fuse and create a new one."

The A3/02 HIV strand seems to be confined to West Africa according to ABC News and Swedish scientists. Scientists do fear that recombinants are becoming more common and therefore they could start to spread globally. "The researchers said recombinants develop faster than the "parental" strains they spring from, though fortunately, this latest strain seems treatable with existing drugs."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 50,000 people in the United States become infected with HIV each year. Worldwide, there is an estimated 34.2 million people who are living with HIV. The CDC reports that in 2010, there were about 1.8 million AIDS related deaths.

ABC News states that an HIV diagnosis changes to AIDS when a person's white blood cell count drops below 200. Phalguni Gupta, a professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Graduate Health, said that "most clinicians also consider a diagnosis of AIDS when someone with HIV develops a serious infection such as pneumonia, cancer or a wasting syndrome characterized by severe weight loss, diarrhea and high fever."

While some scientists believe that this new strain of HIV, again, known as A3/02, is the most aggressive strain, Gupta told ABC News that that idea is misleading. Gupta stated that "There are some HIV types here in the United States that take as little as two years to develop into AIDS."

Scientists fear that these new recombinant strands of HIV could potentially spread faster, especially in larger communities such as the United States.

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