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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 11:49 GMT
New HIV type found
HIV
The new form of HIV has a different genetic structure
A newly discovered form of HIV may already have been transmitted world-wide, experts have warned.

They fear that current treatments and experimental vaccines will prove ineffective against this new form of the deadly virus.

It was first detected in blood samples taken from an Aids patient in Cyprus who died in 1998.

However, a medical team in Seoul, South Korea, has announced that they have detected the same form of the deadly virus in a 33-year-old female with Aids who died in 1997.

Professors Choi Kang-won and Oh Myong-don, of Seoul National University (SNU), said the HIV collected from the blood of the woman had a totally different gene structure than the usual form of HIV. However, it was the same as the samples taken from the patient in Cyprus.

New vaccines needed

Professor Choi said: "The outcome of our research shows that a new variety of HIV exists in the nation.

"We, therefore, need to develop Aids vaccines to cope with new types of HIV."

Professor Choi said the Korean woman had worked as a prostitute in the southern port city of Pusan.

This could mean that other people had already been infected with the new form of the disease.

The US and South Korean teams are expected to give more details of their discovery at the 8th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections being held this week in Chicago.

Professor Choi stressed that new virus was not a mutation of other HIV strains.

He suspects that the new form of the virus may have originated in Africa.

According to the United Nations, 36.1 million people either had the HIV virus or had developed Aids by the end of 2000.

Several experimental vaccines for HIV are currently undergoing tests world-wide. However, there are not effective for all forms of the disease.

There are two recognised forms of HIV, known as HIV-1 and HIV-2.

It is thought that the newly discovered form is a sub-type of HIV-1.

Mutate rapidly

Mark Graver, of the UK HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust Lighthouse, said: "Because of the class of viruses to which it belongs and its rate of reproduction, HIV-1 can mutate particularly rapidly.

"This is one of the reasons why anti-HIV combination therapy can fail if a person is not able to take their medication correctly.

"HIV reproduces in the presence of the drugs and can mutate to become insensitive to them.

"Apart from drug-resistant mutations of HIV-1, there are a number of different variants or strains of HIV-1 known around the world.

"Some of these strains are more common in one country than in another.

"Any vaccine which is developed to give immunity to infection will, of necessity, have to be active against all these possible variations and mutations of HIV-1."

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16 Jan 01 | Health
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