Highly virulent variant of HIV discovered in the Netherlands – Eurasia Review
A highly virulent variant of HIV-1 has been circulating in the Netherlands for a few decades, researchers report. According to the new study, a group of more than 100 people infected with the subtype showed unusually high viral loads, a rapid decline in CD4 T cells and increased infectivity.
Although the results show that the HIV lineage likely arose de novo around the turn of the millennium, significant changes in its genome make it difficult to discern the mechanisms underlying its high virulence.
Monitoring HIV virulence is an important undertaking because approximately 38 million people are currently living with the virus. However, outside of recent studies of SARS-CoV-2 variants, an understanding of the evolution of virus virulence beyond theoretical analyzes is lacking.
As part of the ongoing BEEHIVE (Bridging the Epidemiology and Evolution of HIV in Europe) project, Chris Wymant and colleagues have identified more than 100 individuals carrying a distinct strain of HIV-1 subtype B – the “variant VB” – which was characterized by a high viral load. loads and nearly double the rate of CD4 cell decline compared to individuals with other strains of HIV subtype B.
According to Wyman et al., at the time these people were diagnosed, they were likely to develop AIDS within 2 to 3 years. Further analysis of the VB variant showed significant changes across the genome affecting nearly 300 amino acids, making it difficult to understand why this particular variant is so virulent.
“The observation of the emergence of more virulent and transmissible HIV is not a public health crisis,” writes Joel Wertheim in an article entitled Perspective, which explains how and why the virulence of viruses is changing. “Let’s not forget the overreaction to the ‘Super AIDS’ allegation in 2005, when alarm was raised by a rapidly progressing, multidrug-resistant HIV infection discovered in New York and ultimately confined to a single individual .”
Wertheim ends the perspective by discussing the relevance of the findings of Wymant and colleagues’ study to the COVID-19 pandemic and the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 virulence.