HIV Gets a Virulent Strain But Also Gets a Cure

February 2022 has been a unique month because, for the first time in the last 2 years, we are talking about a disease other than #COVID19, and it’s HIV/ AIDS.

First, we discovered a new, highly virulent HIV strain in the Netherlands.

The new variant is called the “VB variant” (for virulent subtype B), and the infected individuals have the following characteristics.

1. A high viral load in the blood: 3.5 -5.5x higher.

2. Faster CD4 cell decline rate (the hallmark of HIV-induced immune system damage) – this occurred 2x faster in individuals infected by the VB variant. 

3. This faster decline also placed the infected individuals at higher risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly.

4. An increased risk of transmitting HIV to others.

Reassuringly, after starting treatment, individuals infected by the VB variant showed similar immune system recovery and survival compared to individuals with other HIV variants.

The second news is about HIV therapy.

A woman appears to have been cured of HIV infection when treated by stem cells found in the umbilical cord blood.

She has thus become the fourth person and the first woman to have been cured of HIV infection.

She received a transplant of umbilical cord stem cells that contained a mutation that blocks HIV and a transplant of stem cells from an adult relative.

She has shown no signs of HIV infection since she stopped treatment for the virus in October 2020.

But, stem cell treatment is hazardous. It requires the doctors to destroy the patient’s existing immune system by chemotherapy or radiation in order to rebuild it with new cells.

Thus, stem-cell therapy is unsuitable for individuals who do not have cancer or another potentially fatal condition.

Links:

1. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abk1688

2. https://www.bdi.ox.ac.uk/news/discovery-of-new-highly-virulent-and-damaging-hiv-variant-in-the-netherlands

3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/zacharysmith/2022/02/15/woman-apparently-cured-of-hiv-using-umbilical-cord-blood-scientists-say

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