University of Oxford: new HIV variant discovered

pharmafile | February 4, 2022 | News story | |   

A new and highly HIV variant with higher virulence, and more damaging health impacts, has been discovered in the Netherlands.

In a new study led by the University of Oxford, a new strain of HIV has been discovered, but because of the effectiveness of modern treatments, is “no cause for alarm.”

Individuals infected with the new “VB variant” (virulent subtype B) showed significant differences before antiretroviral treatment compared with individuals infected with other HIV variants. Those with the VB variant had a viral load between 3.5 and 5.5 times higher than individuals with other HIV variants. Viral load refers to the level of virus in the blood.

Additionally, the rate of CD4 cell decline occurred twice as fast in individuals with the VB variant, placing them at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly. CD4 cell decline is the distinctive indication of immune system damage by HIV. Individuals with the VB variant also showed an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others.

However, after starting treatment, individuals with the VB variant had similar immune system recovery and survival to patients with other HIV variants.

The researchers stress that because the VB variant causes a more rapid decline in immune system strength, this makes it critical that individuals are diagnosed early and start treatment as soon as possible

Further research to understand the mechanism that causes the VB variant to be more transmissible and damaging to the immune system could reveal new targets for next-generation antiretroviral drugs. HIV treatment involves taking medicine that reduces the amount of HIV in the body. HIV medicine is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).

Senior author Professor Christophe Fraser from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, commented: “Our findings emphasise the importance of World Health Organization guidance that individuals at risk of acquiring HIV have access to regular testing to allow early diagnosis, followed by immediate treatment. This limits the amount of time HIV can damage an individual’s immune system and jeopardise their health. It also ensures that HIV is suppressed as quickly as possible, which prevents transmission to other individuals.”

Ana Ovey

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