HIV Virus: Aggressive New Variant Discovered In Cuba

An aggressive new form of HIV, capable of progressing to AIDS in just three years, has been discovered in Cuba by researchers who published their findings in the journal EBioMedicine.

The new variant comes as a result of multiple strains recombining into a new variant within a host. This new variant appears to be significantly more aggressive than other known forms of the virus.

HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a sexually transmitted infection which can also be spread by contact with infected blood or from a mother to child during pregnancy, breast-feeding, or childbirth.

It can take years for HIV to weaken the body’s immune system to the point at which AIDS develops.

An inexpensive new smartphone dongle tests for HIV and syphilis in just 15 minutes, the Inquisitr reported.

Before it’s able to enter human cells, HIV must first anchor itself to them via co-receptors, which are proteins on the cell membrane which act as anchor points. In a normal infection, the virus will use the anchor CCR5 and after a number of healthy years, the virus will then switch the CXCR4 co-receptor, which coincides with a faster progression to AIDS.

The aggressive new Cuban HIV expedites this process by targeting CXCR4 early on, making the transition to AIDS that much faster, as the healthy phase is drastically reduced in length, according to researchers at KU Leuven’s Laboratory for Clinical Epidemiological Virology in Belgium.

Patients infected with the HIV recombinant have been observed with abnormally high doses of the virus and of the defensive molecule known as RANTES, which is part of the natural immune response. The molecule works by binding to CCR5, to which Zee News reports most forms of HIV must bind before entering the cell. The report indicated that the high concentration of the defensive molecule suggests that most of the CCR5 proteins were no longer available as anchor points for the virus, which may have caused the recombinant to bypass the anchor point and subsequently head directly for CXCR4.

Researchers suspect that this rapid transition from CCR5 to CXCR4, which is normally very difficult, may be the result of the combination of fragments from various HIV subtypes. One of the fragments contains a protease from subtype D, which is extremely efficient. The protease is an enzyme which cleaves proteins used in new virus particles, enabling the virus to replicate in greater numbers.

Engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners increases the risk of contracting multiple strains of HIV.

[Image via ZME Science]