A new HIV variant that has more harmful health effects has been discovered in the Netherlands.
Researchers from the Netherlands have identified the existence of a “highly virus-like variant” of HIV that triggers an increase in the strength of the immune system and can cause more negative health consequences if not dealt with in the early stages.
The study revealed that people suffering from the subtype-B variant of HIV-1, also known as”VB,” VB variant, had “significant” variations prior to receiving the treatment with antiretroviral compared to people who are infected by other HIV variants.
Based on the research, people who had the VB variant showed more viruses within their blood and had a CD4 number of cells that fell more than twice as fast as people affected by other varieties. CD4 cells are also referred to as T-cells are a subset composed of white blood cells that combat off infection and guard the immune system of the body.
“This implies that the virulence that is normalized by the quantity that virus… which is the reason HIV can be heritable is greater with respect to this VB version,” the study’s authors stated.
The research findings were published on Thursday in Science The academic journal with peer-reviewed peer-review by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Researchers examined 109 patients who had this VB type and assessed them to those from other subtype B HIV strains. The study highlights that age, sex, and suspected transmission mode for the 109 patients were all common to those suffering from HIV within the Netherlands.
It is believed that the VB variant was initially detected within 17 HIV-positive people which included 15 who resided in the Netherlands as part of the BEEHIVE project, an ongoing study that gathers samples from all over Europe as well as Uganda. Researchers then examined data from a sample comprising more than 6700 HIV-positive people in the country and found another 92 individuals who had the variant.
The study found that these people had a virus load that was 3.5 to 5.5 times more than average. Additionally, the researchers discovered that an increase in CD4 decline was twice as fast for those who had a VB variant, putting the chance of developing AIDS faster.
Researchers believe that those who carry the VB variant have also shown an increased risk of passing the virus to others.
“Without intervention, the stage of advanced HIV –CD4 cell counts that are below 350 per cubic millimeter and with long-term consequences for the patient — is predicted to occur in the average, 9 months post-diagnosis, for people in their 30s with this type of variant,” the study’s authors reported.
After starting treatment the researchers found that patients who had the VB variant showed similar recovery of their immune system and longevity as those who had other HIV variants if they started treatment early.
The study suggests that DNA sequences suggest that the VB variant first appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s within the Netherlands.
With more transmissibility, and the “unfamiliar molecular basis for the virulence” researchers have reported that the variant resulted through de novo mutation instead of recombination, which means that the variants have been identified as “genetically different” from the inherited variants.
Through analyzing the patterns of genetic variation spreading this study suggests that the VB variant grew more rapidly as compared to other HIV variants in the 2000s, however, it is declining with an “appreciable degree of uncertainty” from around the year 2010.
The study reveals that VB variants may be undiscovered for so long because of the absence of information on the viral sequence of HIV-positive people who were diagnosed in the Netherlands in the 1990s.
Researchers believe that the VB variant developed because of the widespread treatment available in the Netherlands and not due to it, as effective treatment may impede transmission.
“Our conclusive conclusion was that the widespread treatment is beneficial in preventing new viruses, but is not detrimental,” the study’s authors have written.
“Put simply, viruses can’t alter if they can’t reproduce, and the best method to stop it altering is stopping it” they concluded.
But, as the VB variant is associated with an acceleration in the strength of the immune system and strength, scientists stress that it is “critical” patients are identified early and treated “as soon as is feasible” to avoid CD4 cell loss.
“Our discovery of the highly transmissible and virulent viral variant emphasizes the importance of regular testing for those at risk and the need to adhere to the recommendations for the immediate initiation of treatment for all people who are living with HIV,” the study’s authors wrote.