Researchers have discovered a variant of HIV that has significantly increased viral loads compared with other subtypes

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In an ongoing study called the Beehive project, researchers have identified a group of individuals with a distinct subtype-B HIV-1 viral variant. Their viral loads increased markedly compared with individuals with other subtype-B strains, accompanied by a sharp decline in CD4 cell counts.

The variant was initially discovered in a group of 17 individuals. After further investigation, the researchers identified 92 additional individuals infected with the new viral variant, which they named ‘VB variant’ (virulent subtype B).

Genetic analysis suggested that the VB variant first appeared in The Netherlands in the 1990s, with new cases rising quickly until a peak in 2008 and subsequently decreased.

Individuals infected with the VB variant had an approximated 3.5- to 5.5-fold increase in viral load, and a CD4 cell decline twice as fast as what was displayed by 6604 individuals infected with other subtype-B HIV-1 strains.

With these values and without treatment, advanced HIV and long-term clinical consequences are expected to be reached, on average, 9 months after diagnosis for individuals in their thirties with this variant, the authors explain.

These findings emphasise the need for frequent testing of at-risk individuals and immediate treatment initiation for every person living with HIV, the authors concluded.

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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Lead image: artegorov3@gmail/stock.adobe.com

Image 1: artegorov3@gmail/stock.adobe.com