Far More Dangerous & Contagious HIV Variant Discovered in The Netherlands, Study Shows

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HIV mutates so fast that each infected person has a virus that differs from the others. Most of these mutations are of no significance, but they can be grouped into “subtypes.” Understanding virus evolution is critical especially during pandemic times, scientists say, as mutations do not “inevitably evolve to be benign.”
A new more virulent and contagious HIV variant that triggers faster AIDS development was detected in the Netherlands and other European countries, according to a study by the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute (BDI), published in Science.
An international team of researchers identified the new "VB variant" in 17 people at the end of 2018 as part of the BEEHIVE international project that aimed to track HIV from Europe and Uganda. Of those infected with this variant, 15 were from the Netherlands, one from Switzerland and one from Belgium. The scientists then analyzed data from another 6,700 HIV-infected people in the Netherlands and found 92 more cases of VB infection in the country. Thus, the total number of VB carriers has reached 109.
Scientists have said that those infected with VB had a viral load (the concentration of viral particles in the blood plasma) that was four times higher than more common HIV strains, and that the variant damages human immunity twice as fast, putting infected people at risk of developing AIDS within two-three years.

“We should never underestimate the potential for viral evolution,” Joel Wertheim, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, told NPR. “Let this study stand in stark contrast to the claim that all viruses will inevitably evolve to be benign.”

According to the leading author of the study Chris Wymant, the new variant first “arose during the late 1980s and 90s in the Netherlands, spread more quickly than other variants in the 2000s and then declined in the spread around 2010.”
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However, scientists believe that the new strain does not pose a threat to public health, as antiretroviral therapy used for HIV infection effectively fights the VB variant too.
“The worst-case scenario would be the emergence of a variant that combines high virulence, high transmissibility and resistance to treatment. The variant we discovered [in the new study] has only the first two of these properties,” Wymant told Technology Networks.
In the spring of 2020, the Lancet magazine reported the second instance of someone with HIV being cured. A Venezuelan national was diagnosed with the immunodeficiency virus in 2003, and in 2012 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. The man received bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare mutation that made him immune to HIV.
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