Abbott discovers new strain of HIV

Grant Boone
November 8, 2019

Over the years, HIV has become increasingly manageable to live with thanks to the invention and the availability of advanced medicines, but scientists have recently discovered a new strain of the virus for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The new strain is a part of the same family of virus subtypes that have fueled the global HIV pandemic, according to Abbott Laboratories, which conducted the research with the University of Missouri.

A senior faculty member at AIIMS, New Delhi, who did not want to be named said that sequencing of this strain is a significant development in understanding, prevention and treatment of HIV because it is part of what has caused the most infections in humans.

"There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit", Fauci told CNN.

Since the discovery of HIV in 1983, over 75 million people have been infected with HIV and over 37 million persons are living with the virus today. "This is an outlier".

It is as yet unclear whether this subtype acts differently from other subtypes of the virus but current treatments can fight this new strain so there is no major cause for concern, it is merely another step in finding a cure for the disease.

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This will be the first time in 19 years for such report since guidelines for grouping HIV subtypes were announced at the turn of the millennium. One of the requisites to pinpoint a new strain was that three cases of the virus infection would have to be identified independently in different geographic locations.

"Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack", said study co-author Mary Rodgers from Abbott. From 1977-1979 she carried out post-doctoral study at the University of Florida and obtained an MD degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1991. Rodgers explained that these two cases were unusual and "didn't match other strains".

Abbott scientists said the company's core and molecular laboratory diagnostic tests can detect this new strain of HIV.

The authors wrote in conclusion, "The CG-0018a-01 HIV-1 genome establishes subtype L and confirms ongoing transmission in DRC as recently as 2001".

According to the World Health Organization, about 36.7 million people worldwide live with HIV. "Since CG-0018a-01 is more closely related to an ancestral strain than to isolates from 1983 or 1990, additional strains are likely circulating in DRC and possibly elsewhere". In order to utilise this technology, the Abbott scientists had to develop and apply new techniques to help narrow in on the virus portion of the sample to fully sequence and complete the genome. Yet researchers must remain vigilant to monitor for new strains to make sure testing and treatments continue to work. She said, "We're not going to slow down. To prevent new infections, we have to understand how they have spread in the past".

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