Image credit: Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

CNN reports that scientists have discovered a new strain of HIV after three cases of the subtype were detected independently in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This new strain — the first one to be discovered in almost two decades — was discovered by researchers from Abbott Laboratories and the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

In the report published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, the researchers explained that the new strain is related to the Group M version of HIV-1, which is responsible for a majority of the world’s HIV cases. There are also N, O, and P strains under HIV-1. HIV-2 is another type of the virus, but it is very rare.

This new strain will now be known as subtype L of Group M, and scientists want to reassure everyone that there is nothing to worry about.

“There’s no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit,” said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Not a lot of people are infected with this. This is an outlier.”

Fauci says current treatments for HIV work well against this strain. Identifying this strain only makes it easier for scientists to see how HIV evolves.

Finding out the new strain was a process that took 19 years. Since a new subtype can only be declared after three cases are detected independently, scientists had to wait for years before announcing anything. The first case was found in 1983, the second in 1990, and the third in 2001. However, that third sample was so small that new techniques had to be developed to study and map it.

The report’s co-author, Mary Rodgers, said that the whole process was “a real challenge for diagnostic tests.” Rodgers, who is a principal scientist at Abbott, also compared the process of studying the third sample to “searching for a needle in a haystack” with the needle being pulled out “with a magnet.”

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