New strain of HIV found in Singapore

Published: November 4, 2011

SINGAPORE: A new and possibly more aggressive strain of the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) has surfaced in Singapore, evolving from the two existing strains.

Researchers from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Tan Tock Seng Hospital discovered the new strain AE-B after studying more than 200 HIV patients between 2008 and 2009.

Around the world, there are currently 50 other known recombinant forms of the HIV virus.

While the new strain can be treated with existing medication, doctors are concerned because it suggests high-risk behaviour among HIV patients – with some having had sexual intercourse with at least two people who carry different strains of the HIV virus.

Preliminary evidence also shows that the new strain could be more aggressive and cause more serious diseases in infected patients. However, larger studies are needed to ascertain this.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Dr Ng Oon Teck, one of the researchers who carried out the study, said the new strain may suggest some within the population had sexual intercourse with at least two people who carry different strains of the HIV virus.

Said Dr Ng: "This is a marker of ongoing high-risk activities with repeated transmissions. Further behavioural research to understand this pattern and prevention efforts to address it is needed."

The study — which will be among several presented at the Singapore Health & BioMedical Congress on Nov 11 and 12 — found that 15 people here were infected with the new strain.

Of these, three were heterosexual, seven were men who have sex with men and five were bisexual.

According to latest figures from the Ministry of Health — which were released in September — there are 4,845 people here diagnosed with HIV, with sexual transmission as the main mode of infection.

The TTSH researchers have also developed a local test — at half the cost of similar tests available in the market — to monitor treatment of HIV and determine if patients have developed resistance to their existing medication. 

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