An aggressive HIV variant has been discovered, which if left untreated, could progress quickly to AIDS within two to three years, say researchers.
The variant, called VB, was detected by European researchers who identified an unusual cluster of HIV cases in the Netherlands, which had been undetected for two decades according to a study by the University of Oxford. Furthermore, without treatment, VB seems to cause more severe disease in a shorter amount of time than other common HIV variants. This compares to most people with HIV who develop AIDS around six to seven years after they’re diagnosed if not treated.
So, treatment and seeking it quickly are key, because it can easily be treated: VB responds to the same virus-blocking drugs as other HIV strains.
Indeed, treatment for HIV and AIDS has progressed immensely since the late 1980s, as Deborah Waterhouse, who leads one of the largest commercial developers of Aids treatments in the world, explains. As the chief executive of ViiV Healthcare (a GlaxoSmithKline-controlled joint venture), she recently told The Observer newspaper. “I remember in 1987 GSK brought the first medicine out for HIV, and at that point, the life expectancy for someone living with HIV was 18 months. Today if you become HIV-positive, your life expectancy is the same as for somebody not living with HIV.“
Of course, there is still stigma surrounding HIV which means people may not seek he help or support they need because of it. Deborah says, “While science has created amazing treatments, stigma has not evolved, and this is a battle we’ve got to fight.”
Currently, ViiV Healthcare’s dolutegravir tablets are taken by 18 million people, half of all those living with HIV. The company even make a version for children, which tastes like strawberries.
Whilst there are still questions unanswered about this new variant including why it emerged in the first place, researchers have noticed that around 2010 the VB variant started to decline. However, they don’t know why or whether it will rise again.
But what the variant has done, has brought HIV into the news again, which is important because according to the World Health Organization, 1.5 million more people were infected with HIV in 2020, and nearly half of them died, despite a commitment to end Aids by 2030.
Raising awareness and eliminating the stigma is key to ensuring that WHO achieve their aim to end AIDS in eight years’ time. Given the massive medical advancements, it’s certainly achievable.
Written by Kym Nelson