Scientists say they have discovered a new strain of HIV for first time in nearly two decades.
The new strain, called HIV-1 Group M, subtype L, was identified by scientists at Abbott Laboratories. Details about the discovery were published Wednesday in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and rely on next-generation genome sequencing.
Scientists sold the discovery of a new strain as a chance to stay ahead of a new pandemic.
"In an increasingly connected world, we can no longer think of viruses being contained to one location," said Dr. Carole McArthur, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and one of the study's authors. "This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to outthink this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution."
This is the first time a new subgroup of Group M HIV has been discovered since 2000. “Group M viruses are responsible for the global pandemic, which can be traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Sub-Saharan Africa,” a press release from Abbott Laboratories explains.
Notably, while the discovery is new, the first sample of the subtype actually dates back to the 1980s. It takes the confirmation of three samples to identify a strain. The last sample of this subgroup was collected in 2001 but could only be sequenced recently with new technology.
"Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack," said Dr. Mary Rodgers, head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program, Diagnostics for Abbott Laboratories and one of the study's authors. "By advancing our techniques and using next generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet.
"This scientific discovery can help us ensure we are stopping new pandemics in their tracks," Rodgers continued.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN existing medication is effective against this strain and others.
"There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit," Fauci said. "Not a lot of people are infected with this. This is an outlier."
But the discovery could help scientists better understand how HIV mutates and evolves.