Health researchers have found a new strain of aggressive HIV virus in Cuba – it develops into full-blown AIDS within 2-3 years as against the 5-10 years common with normal HIV/AIDS virus.
According to Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a medical professor at University of Leuvan, Belgium, she was alerted to the presence of the mutated HIV virus strain by Cuban health officials who really did not understand it and wanted to know what was happening to some of their HIV/AIDS patients.
“So this group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected,” Vandamme said. “And we know that because they had been HIV negative tested one or a maximum two years before.”
HIV virus translates to AIDS within a 5-10 years window period, but in this Cuban instance, most of the tested patients got infected with HIV but never received any treatments and it developed into AIDS within 1-2 years. The patients in Cuba had tested negative to HIV 1-2 years earlier, but now they have full-blown AIDS.
Fast progression of HIV into AIDS is largely a function of the individual’s weak immune system and not necessarily the subtype of HIV in question, but the Cuban case is not really this way.
“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 found in Cuba is called the CRF19 and is a combination of HIV subtypes A, D, and G.
HIV is known to attach to a co-receptor in order to attack and infect body cells, and full-blown AIDS results when the virus changes from co-receptor CCRS to co-receptor CXCR4 – a process that takes a number of years; but with this new strain, transmission is much faster.
This new variant has been seen in Africa with a negligible number of patients, but the rate is much more widespread in Cuba.
Vandamme advised people engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners to always test for HIV more often, because HIV responds to antiretroviral drugs when administered at the early stages of infection, and not when it really commutes to AIDS.