Scientists have identified a new strain of HIV for the first time in almost two decades.
According to research published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, it is the first subtype of HIV to be identified since guidelines were updated in 2000.
There are two main types of HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus — HIV-1 and HIV-2.
HIV-1 is most predominantly associated with the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, and this new strain is a subtype of HIV-1.
Scientists have confirmed that subtype L, as it is known, belongs to Group M (for “major”) — a type of HIV-1 that is responsible for 90% of infections worldwide.
Subtype L was already known to exist, having been detected in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1983 and 1990.
But a third sample, collected in 2001, has now been confirmed to belong to the same distinct genome — sufficient distinction to grant the strain its own subtype.
The discovery of subtype L shouldn’t be cause for alarm, researchers say. Instead, it should allow for more accurate detection and testing methods to confirm specific subtypes and strains of HIV.
“The subtype has been around as long as all the other strains have,” Mary Rodgers, one of the study’s authors and principal scientist of infectious diseases at Abbott Laboratories, told NBC News. “We just didn’t recognize it as an official subtype until now.”
Rodgers said that current HIV treatment is expected to respond to subtype L, adding that she doesn’t think the confirmation of the subtype is “any cause for concern.”
Carole McArthur, co-author of the study and professor of oral and craniofacial sciences at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, told Metro UK that the discovery of subtype L “reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to out-think this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution.”
The new strain has been identified in part due to advancements in screening technologies, with the 2001 sample containing too low an amount of the HIV virus to be properly read when it was first collected.
Rodgers noted to Scientific American that, as technologies continue to improve, more strains of the HIV virus will likely be detected.
“The full diversity has not been characterized,” she said. “We’re going to continue to look.”