Summary: An aggressive form of HIV which develops into AIDS in just 3 years has been discovered in Cuba. Doctors fear that the currently successful antiretroviral therapy used in HIV/AIDS treatment may be not be an effective treatment against it.
A new, more aggressive type of the HIV has been found in Cuba. The strain, called CRF19, has been also been spotted in parts of Africa, but has been found to on a larger scale throughout Cuba. Researchers from the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium found the strain is capable of turning from an infection to full-blown AIDS within three years, a lot faster than the average conversion time period of about 10 years that was seen with previous, weaker strains of the virus.
In an article for Voice Of America News, Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme said she was contacted by Cuban doctors who first encountered the new strain, asking her for help in figuring out why their HIV patients were developing AIDS so quickly. Vandamme – who is a medical professor at the University of Leuvan- and her team, studied a group of about 70 patients and divided them into various groups for testing and observation.
According to Vandamme, HIV progresses to AIDS quickly (or slowly) as a result of the strength of the patient’s immune system rather than the particular subtype of HIV involved. Her studies showed that with the HIV strain in Cuba, that is not so.
“Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant [and] tried to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes,” Vandamme told Voice of America News.
The new form of HIV found is Cuba has been found to be a combination of HIV sub-types A, D and G. Patients who suffer from this recombinant strain, called CRF19, also had higher viral loads (the amount of the virus found in their blood). They also had higher levels of RANTES, which are molecules produced by the body as a direct immune response to signal infection. The defining difference between this new form of HIV that is causing it to develop into AIDS faster than ever however, was found to be the speed with which the virus switched co-receptors. The process of the virus switching co receptors usually takes many years while this new strain does it in less than 3.
Vandamme has attributed this to the inclusion of HIV subtype D which contains an enzyme that enables HIV to reproduce in greater numbers and takes proteins from other subtypes and uses them in new virus particles.
Based on her research, CRF19 has been found to respond to most antiretroviral drugs however, because of the speed with which it progresses, people may not realize they have full-blown AIDS until it’s too late for therapy to do any good.