BY SUNDAY OMEIKE

Scientists have discovered a new strain of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) —the first to be identified in 19 years. 

In the study, published on Wednesday in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, it was discovered that the new strain of HIV was detected in blood samples collected from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by a team of scientists in the USA.

According to Abbott laboratories, which conducted the research alongside the University of Missouri, Kansas City, the strain is a part of a group responsible for the global HIV pandemic.

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.

“The new strain, called HIV-1 group M subtype L, is part of the family of virus subtypes responsible for global HIV pandemic, HIV-1 Group M,” the study said.

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

According to Mary Rodgers, senior author of the research and head of Abbot’s Global Viral Surveillance Program, two strain were found in 1983 and 1990, while the third was detected in 2001.

They were confirmed new based on their whole genome analysis using Abbot’s newly developed HIV screening technology which Rodgers claimed “can be a real challenge for diagnostic tests.”

“Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” she said.

“By advancing our techniques and using next-generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet.

“We’re making this new strain accessible to the research community to evaluate its impact to diagnostic testing, treatments and potential vaccines.”

Abbott had created its surveillance program 25 years ago to track changes in HIV and hepatitis viruses strains.

“We really need to be monitoring them to stay one step ahead of the virus,” she said, adding that “the program now includes 78,000 samples from 45 countries. No other new subtypes have been characterized since 2000.”

Anthony Fauci, a director at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said the current treatments for HIV are effective against the new strain.

He added that identifying a new strain provides a more complete map of how HIV evolves.

“There’s no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit,” Fauci said.

“Not a lot of people are infected with this. This is an outlier.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 36.7 million are living with HIV worldwide.



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