U.S. scientists confirm new strain of HIV

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Sample blood collection tube with HIV test label on HIV infection screening test form.
Sample blood collection tube with an HIV test label on HIV infection screening test form.

Scientists at U.S.-based Abbot Laboratories report they have confirmed a new strain of HIV for the first time in almost two decades.

The new strain is a part of the same family of virus subtypes that have fueled the global HIV pandemic. The strain, HIV-1 Group M subtype L, has been recorded in three people from blood samples taken between the 1980s and 2001, all in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Abbott laboratories told AFP on Thursday.

The “M” stands for “major” because it’s responsible for more than 90 percent of HIV infections worldwide.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that existing treatments for HIV work against this new strain and that there is no need to panic.

“Not even a little bit”, Fauci says “Not a lot of people are infected with this. This is an outlier.”

Still, scientists need to know what strains of the virus are circulating so that tests used to detect the disease are accurate.

This new strain was actually first identified in 1983. But today’s technology made it possible for scientists to recognize it as an official subtype.

Abbott Laboratories said the breakthrough was possible thanks to next-generation sequencing technology that allowed scientists to build up an entire genome at higher speed and lower cost.

“This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to outthink this virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to understand its full scope,” said Mary Rodgers, a principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program at Abbott.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. estimated 36.9 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2017. That included 1.1 million people in the U.S. Of those, the CDC estimated that about 14 percent were unaware they had HIV.

Abbot Labs’ research was published Wednesday in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The University of Missouri helped conduct.

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