USA lab identifies rare new HIV strain

Maricruz Casares
Noviembre 8, 2019

Researchers announced on Wednesday the discovery of a new strain of HIV, the first new strain of the virus identified since 2000. They were able to completely sequence the sample and determine that, in fact, it was subtype L of Group M. Currently, it is not clear if this variant of HIV impacts the body differently or if it impacts it differently. In HIV-1, there are multiple strains. Subtype L is now the 10th of this group and the first to be identified since the guidelines were issued. Fauci said, "There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit". Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, 75 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus. "This is an outlier". It is important to know what strains of the virus are circulating to ensure that tests used to detect the disease are effective.

"Since subtype L is part of the major group of HIV, Group M, I would expect current treatments to work with it", Mary Rodgers, a principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program at Abbott told AFP. For such massive numbers of testing the units need to be able to identify the new strains correctly. Her company tests more than 60% of the world's blood supply, she said, and they have to look for new strains and track those in circulation so "we can accurately detect it, no matter where it happens to be in the world".

The strain was declared new after three independent cases were reported, all in the DRC.

Rodgers says the almost decades-long process of verifying the strain's existence was akin to "searching for a needle in a haystack" and then removing the needle "with a magnet" afterward. It was found a third time in 2001, also in Congo.

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"The subtype has been around as long as all the other strains have". Rodgers said looking for the small difference in the strain of HIV was much like looking for a "needle in a haystack". "So scientists at Abbott and the University of Missouri developed new techniques to study and map the 2001 sample". The team wrote, "Metagenomic (mNGS) and HIV-specific target enriched (HIV-xGen) libraries were combined for next generation sequencing (NGS) to extend genome coverage".

A U.S. healthcare company has identified a new subtype of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and said the finding showed that cutting edge genome sequencing is helping researchers stay ahead of mutations. There is no reason to believe this subtype is more unsafe or virulent than any other strain of HIV. Both subtypes and sub-subtypes of the HIV-1 M group are believed to have originated from a single chimpanzee-to-human transmission.

The study's co-author Carole McArthur, a professor at the University of Missouri, said the discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, "we must continue to outthink this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution".

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