According to researchers of a study from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute, there has been a discovery of a highly virulent strain of HIV in the Netherlands. This new variant, called the “VB variant,” has shown considerable differences prior to antiretroviral therapy vs those who have been infected with other HIV variants including a viral load between 3.5 and 5.5 times higher, 2-times faster CD4 cell decline, which makes patients with the VB variant at risk for developing AIDS much more quickly, and a heightened risk of spreading the virus to other individuals.
The VB variant was first seen in 17 individuals who are HIV positive from the ongoing BEEHIVE project, comprised of samples from Europe and Uganda. Fifteen of these individuals were from the Netherlands, prompting the examination of over 6,700 HIV-positive individuals in the Netherlands, which identified an additional 92 individuals with the VB variant. Researchers estimate that the origin of the VB variant was during the late 1980s and 1990s in the Netherlands, based off their analyses of genetic variation patterns.
Following treatment, individuals with the VB variant showed a similar immune system recovery and survival compared with those with other variants. The researchers did, however, emphasize the need to diagnose patients early and initiate treatment as early as possible because this variant causes a quicker decline in the strength of the immune system. Those with the VB variant share the typical characteristics of others living with HIV in the Netherlands, suggesting that the transmissible growth of the VB variant is impacted by the property of the virus instead of the characteristics of individuals who have the virus.