Researchers have found that a highly contagious and dangerous strain of HIV has been circulating in the Netherlands for decades.
Analysis of more than 100 infected people shows that the variant increases the number of viral particles in a person's blood, which increases the likelihood of transmission of the virus. This variant also appears to lead to a decrease in immune cells called CD4 T cells, so infected people are at risk of developing AIDS much faster than people with other HIV variants.
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shown, new mutations in the virus' genetic sequence can have a significant impact on the virus' transmissibility and the damage it causes. For years, concerns have been raised that this could happen with HIV-1, which has infected 38 million people worldwide and caused 33 million deaths so far. This is confirmed by the discovery of a new, highly virulent strain of HIV in the Netherlands in a study by scientists from the University of Oxford's Big Data Institute.
Without treatment, researchers estimate that people with this type will develop AIDS within 2-3 years of diagnosis, compared to 6-7 years for people with other types of HIV.