Untreated HIV fuels risk of new variants

OUT LGBT Well-being notes the discovery of a new fast-spreading HIV variant and joins others in calling for an urgent increase in HIV testing and treatment to avoid the possible development of other variants.

Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute recently discovered the highly virulent variant of the subtype-B of HIV in the Netherlands.

Those living with the new HIV subtype experience double the rate of immune system decline (CD4 count), have higher HIV viral loads (amount of virus in the blood) and are vulnerable to developing AIDS two to three times faster after diagnosis than if they were living with other strains of the virus.

Thankfully, current HIV treatment remains effective against the new variant.

UNAIDS said in a statement that while the newly identified variant does not represent a major public health threat it “underscores the urgency of speeding up efforts to halt the HIV pandemic.”

The more people who remain undiagnosed and/or are living with HIV without treatment, the higher the risk of new more transmissible or dangerous variants of HIV evolving.

“Ten million people living with HIV worldwide are not yet on treatment, fuelling the continued spread of the virus and potential for further variants,” said Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme, a.i.

OUT LGBT Well-being, which provides free HIV services to men who have sex with men in Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city, and in the Eastern Cape through its Engage Men’s Health programme, agrees.

OUT calls for sexually active MSM to get tested every three to six months and if found to be HIV positive, to get on and stay on ARV treatment. Those who are negative can choose to use PrEP, the free daily HIV prevention pill.

For free and friendly HIV services for MSM, call or WhatsApp Engage Men’s Health on 082 607 1686.