The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects and destroys immune cells called CD4 cells in the body, causing the number of these cells to drop. If left untreated, the infection then progresses to AIDS. In people infected with the new variant of HIV, called the VB variant, the CD4 count drops about twice as fast as in people infected with closely related strains of HIV, that is, those of the same subgroup. genetic type (B).
Without treatment, variant VB infections would likely progress to AIDS, on average, within two to three years of initial HIV diagnosis, researchers reported Thursday (February 3) in the journal Science.
With other versions of the virus, a similar degree of decline occurs about six to seven years after diagnosis, on average.
“We found that, on average, people with this variant are expected to progress from diagnosis to ‘advanced HIV’ in nine months, if they do not start treatment and if diagnosed in their 30s,” said the first author. Chris Wymant, senior researcher in statistical genetics and pathogen dynamics at the University of Oxford, told Live Science in an email. Disease progression would be even faster in an older person, he said.
Fortunately, in their study, the team found that antiretroviral drugs, the standard treatment for HIV, work against the BV variant as well as against other versions of the virus.
“For an individual on successful treatment, the deterioration of the immune system to AIDS is halted and the transmission of its virus to other individuals is halted,” Wymant said.
“The authors use the case study to highlight the importance of universal access to treatment,” said Katie Atkins, chancellor at Edinburgh Medical School and associate professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who did not participate in the study.
“Both because we want to directly reduce the number of people dying unnecessarily from AIDS, but also as a means of reducing the amount of virus in circulation and therefore reducing the risk of emergence of new, more deadly variants”, a- she told Live Science in an email. .
How the variant was spotted
Wymant and infectious disease epidemiologist Christophe Fraser, the study’s lead author, are both key members of the BEEHIVE project, an effort to better understand the biology, evolution and epidemiology of HIV.
“The BEEHIVE project, launched in 2014, was created to understand how changes in the virus, encoded in its genetics, cause differences in disease,” Wymant said. “The project brings together data from seven national HIV cohorts in Europe plus one in Uganda.”
When analyzing data from the current study, the team identified 17 people infected with a “distinct” variant of HIV, all of whom carried surprisingly high concentrations of the virus in their blood early in the infection — between six months and two years after diagnosis. Fifteen of those infected came from the Netherlands, one from Switzerland and one from Belgium.
The new variant belongs to genetic subtype B, a group of related HIV viruses most commonly found in Europe and the United States, the team found. To see if they could find any other examples of the variant in the Netherlands, the researchers sifted through data from the national HIV observation cohort ATHENA,