According to a report released on Thursday by researchers at Oxford University, they have discovered a highly virulent strain of HIV that has been lurking in the Netherlands for decades but is no longer a threat due to the efficiency of modern medicines.
Patients infected with the “VB variation,” according to the findings published in the journal “Science,” had viral levels in their blood that were 3.5 to 5.5 times higher than those infected with alternative variants, as well as a faster degeneration of their immune systems, the researchers found.
Individuals with the VB variant, on the other hand, were found to have similar immune system recovery and survival rates to those who had other HIV variants when they began treatment.
According to Oxford epidemiologist Chris Wymant, the paper’s primary author, there is no need to be concerned.
A new form of this virus is believed to have appeared in the Netherlands in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, it began to decline around the year 2010.
It is believed by the research team that because modern medicines are still effective against the variant, widespread HIV treatment in the Netherlands could not have resulted in an evolutionary shift in the virus, making early detection and treatment critical.
As co-author Christophe Fraser, also an Oxford researcher, stated in a press release announcing the findings, “Our findings highlight the importance of World Health Organization guidance that individuals at risk of acquiring HIV have access to regular testing to allow early diagnosis, followed by immediate treatment.”
Aside from that, the findings of this study lend credence to the theory that viruses can evolve into aggressive forms, which is a widely-hypothesized concept for which there are few real-world examples.
Another recent example is the Novel Coronavirus Delta variant, which is a variation of the virus.
According to Wymant, the findings of the HIV variety should serve as a “warning that we should never be overconfident in claiming that viruses will just mutate to become milder,” as he said to AFP.
Only four people residing outside of the Netherlands were confirmed to be infected with the VB variety, out of a total of 109 people who tested positive for the virus.
In fact, the HIV virus is constantly mutating to the point where each individual has a slightly distinct strain of the virus. The VB variation, on the other hand, contains more than 500 alterations.
According to Wyman, “discovering a novel variety is common, but discovering a new variant with unexpected features — particularly one with increased virulence — is uncommon.”
According to the findings, the researchers processed a large data set from the BEEHIVE project, a data gathering and analysis endeavor that took place in Europe and Uganda to detect the VB variant in 17 HIV-positive persons.
After evaluating data from 6,700 Dutch HIV-positive persons, it was discovered that 92 more HIV-positive individuals lived in the Netherlands, which accounted for 15 of the 17 individuals.
VB was discovered for the first time in 1992 in a patient who had an early form of the gene variant, and it was discovered for the second time in 2014.