An aggressive new strain of HIV has been found in patients in Cuba and according to researchers the new strain can develop into AIDS within three years of infection.
Without treatment, HIV infection usually takes 5 to 10 years to turn into AIDS, according to Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a medical professor at Belgium’s University of Leuven. According to the study, published in the journal EBioMedicine, Vandamme was alerted to the new aggressive strain of HIV by Cuban health officials who wanted to find out what was happening.
”So this group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected,” Vandamme explained to Voice of America. “And we know that because they had been HIV-negative tested one or a maximum two years before.”
None of the patients had received treatment for the virus, and all of the patients infected with the mutated strain of HIV developed AIDS within three years.
While fast progression of HIV to AIDS is usually the result of the patient’s weak immune system rather than the particular subtype of HIV, what’s happening in Cuba is different.
“Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant [and] tried to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes.”
The new variant, named CRF19, is a combination of HIV subtypes A, D and G.
HIV normally infects cells by attaching itself to what is called a co-receptor, and the transition to AIDS usually occurs when the virus switches — after many years — from co-receptor CCR5 to co-receptor CXCR4. The new strain makes the switch much faster.
One thing we’re very curious about is whether PrEP currently protects against this new strain of HIV. We’ll know more as research continues.
In the meantime, continue to be safe and get tested regularly