University of São Paulo: New, more transmissible and aggressive HIV variant identified

Research released by the University of Oxford showed that a variant of HIV, identified as BV, found in patients in the Netherlands, is more transmissible and harmful to health. One person dies every minute in the world from HIV, according to UNAIDS (a United Nations program created in 1996, whose function is to create solutions and help nations in the fight against AIDS).

According to Ricardo Vasconcelos, an infectious disease specialist at the Hospital das Clínicas, Faculty of Medicine, USP, this is because “HIV has undergone mutations in its original genetic material and these mutations, which are more than 300, somehow modified the proteins that virus uses to replicate itself. The change allowed him to become more agile, making it possible, when infecting a person, to reach higher viral loads and make more copies of HIV in the body. This causes the disease to progress faster than usual. The higher the viral load, the greater the transmissibility of that person.” There is still no information on whether this variant arrived in Brazil, but it has already been possible to verify that, despite its aggressiveness, it responds well to currently existing treatments.

Today, 38 million people are living with HIV: of this total, 28 million are on antiretroviral treatment. Since the 1990s, retrovirals have been used, in addition to new drugs, in treatment. For the infectologist, containing the disease is not so difficult, but being able to diagnose everyone and contain the epidemic is more complicated. “The difficulty is getting people with HIV to test themselves and face all the discrimination and serophobia that exist in the world and remain linked to treatment, the Health Service, consultations, exams. That’s the difficulty. When a person manages to go through all these stages, there is no difficulty.”

The infectious disease specialist ventures to say that “discrimination, prejudice, homo and transphobia, social inequality and machismo cause much more obstacles for us to control the HIV pandemic than a genetic variant, because all the methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment for the HIV that already exist, available, work for this variant, we just need to be able to put it into practice”. According to UNAIDS, an estimated 79 million people have been infected by the virus, which still has no vaccine or cure. Since the beginning of the pandemic, around 36 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses and one and a half million were newly infected with HIV in 2020.

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