Scientists have found a previously unrecognized variant of HIV that's more virulent than usual and has quietly circulated in the Netherlands for the past few decades.
Thursday’s report isn’t cause for alarm: HIV medicines worked just as well in people with the mutated virus as everyone else and its spread has been declining since about 2010. It was discovered as part of efforts to better understand how HIV continues to evolve.
The finding emphasizes the importance of good access to testing and treatment so that whatever the variety, “HIV is suppressed as quickly as possible, which prevents transmission,” Oxford University epidemiologist Christophe Fraser, the study’s senior author, said in a statement.
Different HIV subtypes circulate in different countries, some more severe or transmissible than others. Subtype B is the most common in the U.S. and Western Europe. The Oxford team spotted 17 unusual cases while studying a database of European HIV patients -- people who had more immune damage and were more infectious when they were diagnosed than is typical for subtype B.
Since all but two of those cases were from the Netherlands, the researchers next combed through thousands of Dutch records. They eventually identified a cluster of 109 people infected with what they’re calling the VB variant, for virulent subtype B.