AIDS Drugs ‘Less Effective’ To New Super-Strain In Cuba, Officials Sound Alarm

AIDS drugs in Cuba are becoming less effective — sort of. Cuban public health officials have sounded an alarm about an aggressive HIV strain that is running rampant. Infectious Disease experts in Cuba point to evidence of a mutated virus that is responsible for AIDS. Its presence is so strong that current antiviral medications may not be strong enough — soon enough — to offer any protection, according to a VOA News report.

Medical professor at Belgium’s University of Leuvan, Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme, said several health practitioners notified her of rising cases of HIV in Cuba’s residents. Not only were the number of infections rising, they were becoming more virulent and resistant to AIDS drugs in late diagnosis. They hoped she could shed some light on the medical mystery, as Vandammed explained.

“We have a collaborative project with Cuba and the Cuban clinicians had noticed that they recently had more and more patients who were progressing much faster to AIDS than they were used to [seeing]. In this case, most of these patients had AIDS even at diagnosis already.”

Vandamme assembled a team together and studied the new HIV strain in Cuban patients. Using 70 patient participants, they divided them to study variants and drug effectiveness. One group known to be infected went on to develop AIDS rapidly — much faster than the typical onset, according to Science Direct.

Typically, those infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are stricken with AIDS in five to ten years after exposure. Even with current drugs, Cuban patients are coming down with the deadly virus in only three years. The reason has more to do with awareness than effectiveness of the anti-viral drugs.

In other places around the world, a person who is diagnosed with AIDS rapidly has a weakened immune system. However, the situation in Cuba is starkly different and has officials scurrying for better interventions and drugs.

“So this group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected. And we know that because they had been HIV negative tested one or a maximum two years before. Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant [and] tried to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes,” she said.

The new HIV strain has a name: CRF19. It’s composed of a combination of “sub-types A, D and G.” Current drugs for AIDS proved less effective. Moreover, sufferers were found to have a higher concentration of the virus in their bodies.

Scientists say the HIV pathogens normally attach to a receptor. If successful, the transformation to AIDS happens rather quickly. In the new AIDS drug-resistant HIV strain, the pace is accelerated. The challenge now is to find a way to turn off the mechanism’s process.

Vandamme and her group believe if HIV/AIDS drugs are administered early, they prove to be very effective. The trouble is many don’t discover they are infected until a later stage. Therefore, until a cure or more effective therapy is developed, experts suggest those having sexual intercourse with multiple partners get tested early and frequently.

The study appears in the journal EBioMedicine.

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