A technician takes the blood of a patient (illustration image). – ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP

The US laboratory Abbott has announced that it has identified a new subtype of the AIDS virus in three people since the 1980s, that current tests are already able to detect. This type of classification helps scientists keep their therapeutic arsenal up-to-date.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) mutates, like all viruses. There are actually two distinct viruses: HIV-1, which accounts for almost all infections worldwide, and HIV-2. HIV-1 is genetically divided into four groups (M, N, O and P). Within group M, responsible for the pandemic, there are nine subtypes, represented by letters ranging from A to K.

A third case detected in 2001

Abbott said Wednesday in a statement have identified a tenth subtype, "L", in three people. A priori, antiretroviral therapy should work. "Since subtype L is part of the major HIV group, group M, we can expect current treatments to be effective against it," says Mary Rodgers, head of the global viral surveillance program at Abbott.

This new mutation was identified in two blood samples taken in 1983 and 1990 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. But to add a subtype to the official nomenclature, a third independent case was needed, according to rules established in 2000.

This case was eventually discovered in a third suspect specimen that was collected in 2001. His sequencing was not possible at the time because the amount of virus was too low, Abbott explained. But scientists, thanks to new technologies, have recently succeeded in isolating the virus and confirming that it corresponds to the 1983 and 1990 strains.

"Stay ahead of the virus" thanks to science

This subtype is not new. It is probably still in circulation in the DRC and perhaps elsewhere, according to the researchers. But until proven otherwise, the strain is rare, having been identified only three times. Abbott says that sequencing is available for researchers who would like to find others in circulation.

The advantage of genetic classification is to ensure that diagnostic tests detect all strains. This is the case of this subtype L, confirms Mary Rodgers. "This discovery underscores that to end the HIV epidemic, we must continue to stay ahead of the virus and use the latest technologies and all available means to understand the perimeter," says the researcher, co-author of the report. study published in a specialized journal, the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

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