US lab identifies rare new HIV strain

A technician extracts blood from a patient for an HIV test at the Condesa Clinic which specialises in HIV in Mexico City

A technician extracts blood from a patient for an HIV test at the Condesa Clinic which specialises in HIV in Mexico City

This research marks the first time a new subtype of "Group M" HIV virus has been identified since guidelines for classifying new strains of HIV were established in 2000.

Since the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was first discovered in the United States almost four decades ago, several strains have been identified - allowing doctors to better tailor diagnostic testing and drug treatments.

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.

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

Since the beginning of the global AIDS pandemic, 75 million people have been infected with HIV and 37.9 million people today are living with the virus. "This is an outlier".

The two strains were "very unusual and didn't match other strains", Rodgers said.

However, Michael Worobey, head of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona says the latest revelation is actually not that big of a deal given that the new subtype belongs to the most common form of HIV which accounts for roughly 90 percent of all cases.

According to estimates, 37.9 million people across the world are now living with HIV, while 1.7 million individuals contracted the virus past year. The third sample was from a small study that was looking at mother to foetus transfer of the infection. To confirm the existence of a new strain, it's necessary to have three independent samples.

"Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack", she said. This finally allowed this team, mostly from health care company Abbott Laboratories, a way to test if the 2001 sample was truly evidence of a new strain.

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".

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. She is now funded for characterisation of rare variants of HIV in the Congo Basin and has developed a research lab in Cameroon focusing on HIV drug resistance. "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". "We're sharing this strain with the scientific community so others can work on the strain and hopefully that can advance things like vaccines and treatments".

"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. To prevent new infections, we have to understand how they have spread in the past".