A newly discovered strain of HIV is spreading across West Africa. What's worse is that it's particularly aggressive — and causes significantly faster progression to AIDS than other strains.
Called A3/02, the strain of HIV was first observed in 2011. But now, reports Al Jazeera, researchers at Sweden's Lund University have found that it's spreading across the West African country of Guinea-Bissau. A3/02 forms when two of the most common strains in the region fuse together — and the result is potent. Angelica Palm, one of the scientists involved in the study, explains:
"Individuals who are infected with the new recombinant form develop AIDS within five years. That's about two to two-and-a-half years faster than one of the parent [strains]."
The research backs up previous studies which have suggested that recombinant strains of HIV — where different DNA combines to form a new strain — are potentially more dangerous. Perhaps even more concerning is that the researchers point out that, while their work is conducted in West Africa, different recombinant strains are likely forming across Europe and the US due to high levels of immigration. Gulp.
There is, however, some good news. As far as scientists are aware, the medication and treatments currently available for HIV are "equally functional on all different subtypes of variants" according to Palm. And, fortunately, we're making great progress when it comes to beating the virus. [Al Jazeera]