Scientists recently discovered a new HIV strain in Cuba that progresses into AIDS three times faster than the most common strains of the virus. The new HIV strain was discovered during a study conducted by researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium. The researchers followed reports in Cuba claiming that some people infected with HIV have developed AIDS in three years rather than 10, which is the case with common strains of HIV. The new HIV strain is called CRF19, and the patients found infected with this strain have high levels of it in their body.
The researchers wrote in their study, “We set up an exploratory study in Cuba to investigate the association of rapid progression with epidemiological, clinical, viral and immunological parameters, comparing three groups of patients. The first two groups were recruited prospectively who at sampling within 3 years after seroconversion either were already diagnosed with AIDS (AIDS-RP) or who were still AIDS-free (non-AIDS) and chronically infected HIV-1 patients with AIDS recruited retrospectively and sampled at AIDS diagnosis (chronic-AIDS).”
They also published their findings, saying, “We propose that an evolutionary very fit CRF19_cpx together with co-infections is linked to the increase of rapid progression to AIDS in newly infected patients in Cuba. The robust and significant associations with a fitter protease, more circulating virus, higher immune-activation and CXCR4 co-receptor use suggest that CRF19_cpx may be a more pathogenic virus.”
Approximately 35 million worldwide have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, and around 40 million have died from the debilitating disease since the 80s. While there is no outright cure for AIDS, there are drugs available to manage the illness. However, the new strain of HIV threatens to attack patients even before they realize that they need treatment.
According to reports, this new strain of HIV is actually a mix of three different subtypes of the human immunodeficiency virus. Mutated strains of HIV such as CRF19 are hard to diagnose, with researchers finding that there are more than 60 strains of HIV type 1 due to mutations.
The researchers from the University of Leuven led by Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme studied 73 patients who had tested negative for HIV for three years but who had recently contracted the virus. None of these patients received treatment before their disease progressed to AIDS.
However, several scientists remain skeptical about the findings saying that the sample size was not large enough to gain a definite understanding of just how many in Cuba are suffering from HIV and AIDS.