A research group at health care giant Abbott has discovered a new strain of HIV—the first to be identified in 19 years.
The new strain, called HIV-1 group M subtype L, is extremely rare and can be detected by Abbott’s current screening system.
In the early days of HIV/AIDS in the 80s and 90s, some blood donors unaware HIV had been added to the blood supply and a large number of patients who needed regular blood transfusions ended up contracting HIV and often dying. The supply has been essentially clear of HIV for years and Mary Rodgers, senior author of the paper says efforts such as Abbott’s will help keep it that way.
The study, published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, serves as a reminder of the dangerous diversity of the HIV virus. Jonah Sacha, a professor at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health & Science University says,
“This tells us that the HIV epidemic is still ongoing and still evolving. The calling card of HIV is its diversity. That’s what’s defeated all of our attempts to create a vaccine.
People think it’s not a problem anymore, and we’ve got it under control. But, really, we don’t.
Viruses break through all the time, and we’re not ready to deal with them, just like what happened with the original HIV.”
A radically new viral strain could evade detection in the blood supply, avoid being controlled by drugs and render future vaccines ineffective.
According to an article in Scientific American,
The most recent of the three samples used to identify HIV-1 group M subtype L has been sitting in an Abbott freezer since 2001. The amount of virus in the sample was too low to read back then, but new technology recently made it possible. Comparing that sequence with the others made available by the research community, Abbott researchers found two additional examples of the strain—in samples from 1983 and 1990, also from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hinting that it has been around for a while. “Now that we know it exists, it’ll change how we look for it,” Rodgers says.
(Image, Wikimedia Commons; via Scientific American)