12th February, 2022
The mutated strain is said to make the virus more transmissible with more severe effects. Yet, antiretroviral HIV drugs like PEP are still effective against the newly discovered variant, experts say.
The new variant allows the virus to replicate at a faster rate, which leads to a higher viral load in infected people’s blood streams, making them more likely to transmit the virus. Moreover, the variant leads to the reduction of CD4 T cells at a higher rate, putting people with the variant at the risk of developing AIDS at a faster rate than other variants.
A study carried out on more than a 100 people infected with the variant found that they had up to 5.5 times more virus in their blood than people infected with other variants. It was also found that their CD4 T cells were reduced twice as fast as the control group.
While other variants can advance into AIDS within 6-7 years from the time of infection, the new variant takes only 2-3 years, researchers estimate.
Despite the severe effects the mutated variant has, antiretroviral HIV drugs are still effective against it, says Dr. Joel Wertheim, an evolutionary biologist and molecular epidemiologist at the University of California San Diego. “All of the tools in our arsenal should still work,” he says.
Researchers also found that the variant had been circulating in the Netherlands for decades before being discovered.
The emergence of a highly virulent HIV variant is not a public-health crisis, and there is “no need to panic”, said Dr. Wertheim. Yet, he stated that it is “a reason to stay vigilant”, warning that the HIV pandemic is still ongoing.
To learn more about HIV and AIDS, the symptoms, precautionary measures, medications, and more, make sure to check out this overview by the NHS.
Ahead of Valentine’s day, we advise you to go get tested to know your status, and use the right protection to stop spreading the virus. Happy Valentine’s day!
John Bader is the News Editor for I,Science and is studying an MSc in Science Media Production at Imperial College London