Belgian researchers from the University of Leuven have discovered an aggressive strain of HIV that is slowly spreading through Cuba. The study, published in the Journal of EBioMedicine, calls the strain CRF19, and someone infected can progress to full blown AIDS within three years.
HIV, which is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, normally has to enter the cell like a “Lock-And-Key” in order to make its host sick. The typically “lock”on a cell that it attaches itself to is called CCR5. However, the body’s immune system recognizes that there is a foreign agent trying to “break in” and releases defense molecules called RANTES. It is at this point that HIV will try to break another “lock” on the cell called CXCR4, and aggressively replicate to take over the entire cell.
A normal infection is slow, about 5 to 10 years before the virus is able to get inside and replicate enough to cause symptoms to the host. This is why many infected people can go years —even a decade without any symptoms or knowledge that they are infected with HIV—outside of getting tested, of course.
But in this aggressive strain of HIV, it is smarter and bypassing the tried and failed method of attaching itself to the CCR. It is within 3 years switching to anchor at the CXCR4 entry point, causing patients to become sicker much faster.
Dr. Anne-Mieke Vandamme, one of the co-authors of the paper, and Belgian doctors that worked with Cuban officials on this epidemic said to the Daily Mail, “we know that they were infected just one or two years earlier, since we have an HIV negative test from the patients in the study one or two years earlier. Cuban clinicians were asking us to collaborate with them to investigate why they were noticing an increase in patients progressing to AIDS much faster than before.”
About 95 patients were included in the Belgian study; 73 of whom were recently infected and 52 of those newly infected already had full blown AIDS. The remaining 21 patients had not yet progressed to that later stages of the disease. All 73 blood results were compared to 22 blood samples of patients that already followed the normal course of the disease.
Cuba has so far 144 patients known to be infected of this strain. Dr. Vandamme notes that this strain was sporadically seen in Africa, but not enough cases were brought to warrant an investigation. No cases have been noted in the United States or Europe.
Getting tested early is still the best method for patients to have better prognosis, since the earlier that one finds out they are sick, the sooner they can start treatment.
Currently to date, more than 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV/AIDS, but only half know they have it. Last year about 1.5 million people died from an AIDS-related infection, according to a United Nations report.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, http://Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at http://www.TheReporterandTheGirl.com