Belgian researchers discover fast-acting new HIV strain in Cuba

Insight

Researchers have discovered a highly aggressive new form of HIV. It develops into AIDS much faster than more common strains.
CCTV’s Jack Barton reported this story from University of Leuven in Belgium.

Belgian researchers discover fast-acting new HIV strain in Cuba

Belgian researchers discover fast-acting new HIV strain in Cuba

Researchers have discovered a highly aggressive new form of HIV. It develops into AIDS much faster than more common strains. CCTV's Jack Barton reported this story from University of Leuven in Belgium.

Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme was leading a Belgian research team in Cuba when they uncovered the highly aggressive HIV strain they’re calling CRF 19.

“The Cubans were noticing that more and more patients were progressing, very fast, to AIDS-like as soon as they were diagnosed with HIV they already had AIDS. Normally it takes five to ten years when you are infected and here it was less than three years,” University of Leuven Department of Microbiology and Immunology Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme said.

Researchers believe the mutation came about by people having unprotected sex with multiple partners. Each infected with a different strain of HIV, which then combined into a single, far more aggressive, strain.

People infected with the strain tend to have much higher levels of the virus in their blood. It also bypasses the far slower ways of anchoring to cells common to other types of HIV.

The mutation is more dangerous because it’s better at latching onto human cells and then penetrating them at a much faster rate. Up to 20 percent of Cubans carrying HIV are estimated to have the CRF19 strain.

“We don’t know. Maybe someday it will get out. We know it is in other countries, here and there, perhaps one patient, but we don’t know if it’s going to spread or not.” Vandamme said.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 35 million people worldwide living with HIV and AIDS.

While highly effective drug treatments mean the infection is no longer a death sentence, researchers warn that patients with this new strain are much more likely to be diagnosed after they have already developed AIDS, when damage from the disease has already taken a heavy toll.


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