An aggressive form of HIV has been discovered in Cuba, according to a report by Voice of America.
This particular virus can develop into full-blown AIDS within three years rather than the usual five to 10-year cycle. Researchers said that the progression of the virus occurs so quickly, antiretroviral drugs may not prove effective.
Belgian doctor and co-author of the paper, Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme, said that the Cuban health officials contacted her team.
She explains, “ We have a collaborative project with Cuba and the Cuban clinicians had noticed that they recently had more and more patients who were progressing much faster to AIDS than they were used to [seeing]. In this case, most of these patients had AIDS even at diagnosis already.”
Vandamme and her team studied a group of 70 infected patients, one group consisting of those who developed AIDS quickly.
“So this group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected. And we know that because they had been HIV negative tested one or a maximum two years before,” she said.
Usually, quick progression to AIDS is the result of a weak immune system, something that’s determined by the scarcity of CD-4 immune cells combined with the number of infections a patient has, she says. On average, HIV takes five to 10 years to become AIDS without treatment, but what’s happening in Cuba is different.
Listen: Voice of American explains new HIV strain
“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,” she said.
Vandamme also noted, “Another thing was that they had much more virus in their blood than the other patients. So, what we call the viral load was higher in these patients.”
The research team has determined the reason this form of HIV advances so quickly is because instead of taking years for the virus to attach itself to a co-receptor – the type of cell needed for the infection to take place — this new form of HIV does it in less than three years.
She points out that while this new strain of HIV does respond to most antiretroviral drugs, infected people may not realize they have full-blown AIDS until it’s too late for the drugs to prove helpful.
She cautions people about having unprotected sex and those that do, need to be tested for HIV early and often.