Rare new strain of HIV identified two decades after sample taken in DR Congo

A US laboratory has found a new strain of Group M subtype L strain of HIV after 20 years of the sample taken in DR Congo.


A US healthcare company has identified a new Group M subtype L of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after 20 years of blood samples taken from three people between the 1980s and 2001. Abbott laboratories said the findings from the samples in Democratic Republic of Congo show cutting edge genome sequencing is helping.

According to a 2000 guideline, the three cases of a strain must be discovered independently to classify a new subtype, including Subtype L, which is now the 10th of the most prevalent form of the HIV-1 virus Group M.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART), currently used to reduce the viral load of an HIV carrier to the point at which the infection is both undetectable and further untransmutable, has performed well against a variety of subtypes, according to research, but there is some evidence of subtype differences in drug resistance.

"Since subtype L is part of major Group M, I expect current treatments to work with it," said Mary Rodgers, a principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program at Abbott, adding the laboratory was making the sequence available to the research community to evaluate its impact on diagnostic testing, treatments, and potential vaccines.

Carole McArthur, a professor of oral and craniofacial sciences at the University of Missouri Kansas City and co-author of the finding published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS), said the third sample was collected 18 years ago but was difficult to sequence because of technical constraints at the time.

Abbott said the breakthrough was possible because of next-generation sequencing technology that allowed scientists to build up an entire genome at higher speed and lower cost. "This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to outthink this virus and use the latest advancements in technology to understand its full scope," said Rodgers in a statement.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the identification of a new strain provided a more complete map of how HIV evolved. "There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit," Fauci said.

About 36.7 million in the world are living with HIV, according to the World Health Organization. The Group M version of HIV-1 is the same family of virus subtypes blamed for the global HIV pandemic. According to UNAIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) -- the most advanced stage illness caused by HIV – left some one million people dead last year.