What the discovery of a super contagious variant of HIV teaches

As headlines flood screens and papers with news of variants of COVID-19, a new strain of HIV was quietly developing. It was registered for the first time in 109 patients, most of them in the Netherlands, and its scope has just begun to be studied. It is the first new HIV variant to be identified in 19 years.

This variant, known as BV, would weaken the immune system faster than previous strains, putting people living with this form of HIV at risk of developing AIDS faster. The finding shows once again how, sooner or later, most viruses evolve, seeking new ways to spread and continue to infect.

The study found that people carrying the new variant of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) have up to 5.5 times more viral load: the amount of virus per milliliter of blood. This makes them more susceptible to a rapid deterioration of the immune system and the possibility of developing AIDS more quickly.

Generally, once a person has contracted HIV, it can take years for symptoms to develop. Although early diagnosis of infection in order to receive early treatment is always ideal, this slow development offers a large window of opportunity to prevent progression to AIDS.

But with this virulent new form of the virus that causes AIDS, the times for efficient treatment are much more limited. The researchers predict that people living with the new variant of HIV could develop AIDS within 2 to 3 years after their diagnosis (if they have one), compared to about 7 years with the older strains.

Dr. Joel Wertheim, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, wrote an analysis of the new finding in the journal Science, where he reflects that this research on the new strain of HIV “serves as a reminder, in the age of COVID variants, that viruses don’t always get weaker over time. We should never underestimate the potential of viral evolution,” Wertheim wrote. Adding that this finding of the new form of HIV demonstrates that not all viruses change to become brittle and benign.

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HIV landscape today

In 2020, 2.1 million people were living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 120,000 new infections and 37,000 deaths that year. Access to treatments and PrEP, preventive medicine, remain a challenge, indicates a new article published in the journal JAMA.

By 2005, the region had reached a treatment access rate of 20%, high compared to 3% in sub-Saharan Africa. But in the last decade, progress has slowed, and between 2010 and 2020, the number of cases has increased by 21%, compared to a drop of 23% globally.

An article by the Argentine infectologists Pedro Cahn and Omar Sued explains that this increase is concentrated by 50% in urban areas throughout the region. And that there are specific populations that have the highest burden of infection. Men who have sex with men accounted for 44% of infections in 2019.

Transgender people have a high prevalence of infection, 22%.

Diagnoses in heterosexual people accounted for 23% of cases that year.

Most transmission is explained by social disparities where local interventions to address sociodemographic and infrastructural factors could reduce their impact.

The lack of a timely diagnosis of HIV is due more to the lack of education and information about HIV, the scarce tests or the lack of access to care than to the refusal of people to approach health services.

The biggest difficulty doctors face in offering HIV testing is the need to discuss sexual activity and preferences, the article says. Integrating HIV testing into routine care could lower this barrier, reducing the stigma that still dominates the response to HIV in the region.

In the world, 38 million people live with HIV, reveals UNAIDS.

In 2019, 1.7 million people contracted the virus, and 690,000 died from AIDS-related causes.

In the United States, an estimated 1.2 million people had HIV at the end of 2018. But the number is thought to be much higher, because many don’t know they carry the virus because they’ve never been tested.

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while waiting for a vaccine that finally manages to prevent the infection caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a pill taken once a day can change the destiny of thousands of people.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a once-daily pill that people who do not have HIV can take for additional protection. It was launched on the market in 2012 in the United States, under the brand name Truvada.

In Latin America, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Brazil have approved the use of PrEP and have government programs that finance it.

PrEP has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of sexually contracting HIV by up to 90% when taken as prescribed.

To find out if PrEP is a good option, it is essential to talk with your health provider about your sexual life—how many people you have sex with, whether or not you use a condom, or if you have recently had a sexually transmitted disease—to The doctor decides whether or not to recommend it.

The new strain of HIV discovered in the Netherlands adds a new set of challenges for scientific research and public health.

HIV Answers

(Extracted from MedlinePlus, the US National Library of Medicine)

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that damages the immune system by destroying a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection. This puts you at risk for serious infections and certain types of cancer.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is the final stage of HIV infection. It occurs when the body’s immune system is severely damaged by the virus. Not all people with HIV develop AIDS.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV can be spread in different ways:

  • Through unprotected sex with a person with HIV. This is the most common form of transmission
  • Sharing needles for drug use
  • Through contact with the blood of a person with HIV
  • From mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding

Who is at risk of contracting HIV infection?

Anyone can get HIV, but certain groups are at higher risk:

  • People who have another sexually transmitted disease (STD). Having an STD can increase the risk of getting or transmitting HIV
  • People who inject drugs with shared needles
  • Gay and bisexual men, especially those who are African American or Latino
  • People who engage in risky sexual behavior, such as not using condoms
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What are the symptoms of HIV and AIDS?

The first signs of HIV infection can be flu-like symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Shaking chills
  • Rash
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle pains
  • Throat pain
  • Fatigue
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • mouth ulcers

These symptoms may come and go within two to four weeks. This stage is called acute HIV infection.

If the infection is not treated, it develops into a chronic HIV infection. Often there are no symptoms during this stage. If left untreated, the virus will eventually weaken the immune system. Then the infection will progress to AIDS. This is the last stage of HIV infection. With AIDS, the immune system is severely damaged. You can get more and more serious infections, known as opportunistic infections.

Some people may not feel sick during the early stages of HIV infection. So the only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested.

How do I know if I have HIV?

A blood test can tell if you have an HIV infection. A health professional can perform the test or you can use a home test kit. You can also use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Testing Locator to find free testing sites.

What are the treatments for HIV and AIDS?

Although there is no cure for HIV infection, it can be treated with medication, known as antiretroviral therapy. This can turn HIV infection into a manageable chronic disease. It also reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to other people.

Most people with HIV live long and healthy lives if they receive and continue to take antiretroviral therapy. It is also important that they take care of themselves. Having the support they need, leading a healthy lifestyle, and receiving regular medical care can help them enjoy a better quality of life.

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