Scientists discover first new HIV strain in 19 years

A scanning electron microscope image that’s been digitally colorized depicts a single red-colored H9-T cell that was infected by numerous mustard-colored HIV particles

Three cases must be independently discovered to determine whether an unusual virus is in fact a new HIV subtype and only three individual cases with this subtype have been identified so far.

In this instance, the first two were discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1983 and 1990 respectively. The third, collected in 2001, was hard to sequence at that time because of the amount of virus in the sample and the existing technology.

United States researchers have identified the first new strain of HIV since the year 2000, further expanding our knowledge of the extraordinarily complex virus.

However, Michael Worobey, head of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona says the latest revelation is actually not that big of a deal given that the new subtype belongs to the most common form of HIV which accounts for roughly 90 percent of all cases. It confirmed that all three are the same, and it is of a new subtype Group M version of the millions killing HIV-1.

Even though the new HIV infections are going down globally, researchers are vigilant to monitor for new strains to make sure testing and treatments continue to work. For the first time in almost 20 years, a new strain of the virus has been identified. UNAIDS estimates that in 2016, some 1.8 million folks turned newly contaminated.

The findings have been published today in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS).

HIV has several different subtypes or strains, and like other viruses, it has the ability to change and mutate over time.

The company is making this new strain accessible to the research community to evaluate its impact to diagnostic testing, treatments and potential vaccines. At the time, there was not technology to establish if this was the new subtype.

New strains can reveal some unknown history, said HIV geneticist Brian Foley, from New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, the largest HIV gene bank in the world. In the following year, they were able to confirm the initial finding, and called it "Subtype L".

It is unclear how this variant of the virus might effect the entire body in another way, if it does act otherwise at all.

"Latest statistics from Public Health England show that around 7% of people living with HIV in the United Kingdom are unaware of their status - that's why regular HIV testing is vital and we will be getting that message out there as part of National HIV Testing Week later this month".

"This discovery reminds us that to conclude the HIV pandemic, we ought to carry on to out think this continuously modifying virus and use the hottest advancements in technologies and resources to keep track of its evolution", review co-writer, Dr. Carole McArthur, a professor in the division of oral and craniofacial sciences at the College of Missouri, Kansas City, reported in a statement.

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