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New HIV strain found

By Vision Reporter

Added 3rd August 2009 03:00 AM

FRENCH researchers have discovered a new subtype of the AIDS virus that appears to have jumped the species barrier to humans from gorillas.

FRENCH researchers have discovered a new subtype of the AIDS virus that appears to have jumped the species barrier to humans from gorillas.

By Anthony Bugembe
and Agencies


FRENCH researchers have discovered a new subtype of the AIDS virus that appears to have jumped the species barrier to humans from gorillas.

The research was carried out at a national referencing laboratory for HIV at the Rouen Hospital Centre in northwestern France.

The new strain was found in samples from a 62-year-old Cameroonian woman. The strain is part of the HIV-1 family that accounts for most HIV cases.

According to a letter published by the Nature Medicine journal, the new subtype has been called P, adding to three established HIV-1 subtypes: M, which is by far the most prevalent, and O and N, which are rare. Until now, all have been linked to chimpanzees and monkeys.

Dr. Stephen Watiti of Uganda’s National Forum of People Living with HIV-AIDS said the emergence of a new ‘enemy’ called for more investigations and increased vigilance.

“It is like fighting Kony and a new rebel group emerges. We must investigate further and know how the new enemy behaves. Gorillas are closer to human beings than other primates.”

In 2004, the Cameroonian woman was tested for HIV. She responded to diagnostic tests for HIV-1 but further tests failed to pinpoint the viral subtype.

The virologists genetically decoded the virus. They put it through a computer model to compare its evolutionary past against known viruses. These were HIV and its equivalent in apes, SIV.

The strain was a “significant” match with SIVgor - an immune deficiency virus found in gorillas.

“The most likely explanation for its emergence is gorilla-to-human transmission of SIVgor,” the letter, published by the Nature Medicine journal, says.

Watiti called for people to respect the environment which would protect them from contracting diseases from wild animals. “Wild animals should be left in the bush. Some people eat monkeys or destroy their habitat. This exposes us to diseases from animals.”

Asked for a reaction, Dr. Victor Musiime, the head of the paediatrics department at the Joint Clinic Research Centre, said the most worrying thing would be if the new subtype was not responsive to the drugs available.

“If a particular strain of HIV1 has never been exposed to drugs before, it is usually responsive to the ARVs we have available,” he noted.

Musiime said scientific studies continue to unravel important findings. Some of the subtypes, he noted, could be recombinants of those already in existence.

The Cameroonian woman, who has no sign of AIDS, is receiving treatment and has a stable count of viruses and CD4 cells, a key benchmark of immune-system fitness.

AIDS has killed about 25 million people globally since it became known in 1981. Currently, 33 million are living with HIV, the virus that destroys immune cells and exposes the body to opportunistic diseases.

New HIV strain found

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