New strain of HIV found in the Caribbean

| March 4, 2015

Caribbean news. Recent reports have indicated that an aggressive, new strain of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been identified within the region. As a result local public health authorities are reminding residents to practice safe sex at all times, whether at home or on travel overseas.

Image courtesy kuentir.biz

Image courtesy kuentir.biz

More than 60 epidemic strains of the HIV-1 virus presently exist and research indicates that this new strain called CRF19CPX develops much more rapidly from infection into full blown AIDS than these previous epidemic strains. Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr Samuel Williams, explained that the new strain is a recombinant form of the virus.

“The recombinant virus strains originate when a person is infected by two different strains, whose DNA fuse to create a new form. Recombinants seem to be more vigorous and more aggressive than the strains from which they developed. In the case of CRF19, patients are reportedly transitioning from infection to AIDS in three years, two-and-a-half years faster than either of the parent strains,” explained Dr Williams.

Coordinator for the Cayman Islands HIV/AIDS programme, Nurse Laura Elniski, reiterated that when two dissimilar HIV strains meet in an infected person they can exchange bits of their genetic material to create a new virus. Therefore it is important that HIV positive persons with HIV positive partners continue to use protection whilst adhering to their treatment regimens as re-infection can occur and cause more recombinant virus strains to develop.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), a national federation for the HIV community, states that “re-infection” also known as “super-infection” occurs when a person who is already HIV positive contracts a new or secondary infection after their initial infection.

A release from the Public Health Department stated, “According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently 35 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. The Caribbean region alone is reported as having the second highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, behind Sub Saharan Africa.

“Since the first case of AIDS in the Cayman Islands during 1985, there have been 123 HIV infections. Seventy-two persons have developed AIDS and 43 have died as of November 2014. Currently there are 62 persons living with HIV in the Cayman Islands.”

Dr Williams remarked that such information has long been known, but added that: “Given the emergence of the new strain of HIV, and regional efforts underway to control the epidemic in the Caribbean and Latin America, it is now more important than ever to practice safe sex.”

The region has been making efforts to set new targets and benchmarks for expanding HIV testing and treatment by 2020 in an effort to reduce new HIV infections, late diagnosis and AIDS-related deaths, as well as to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.

“The Public Health Department in collaboration with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARHA) continues to monitor the situation. Local public health authorities also urge persons who are sexually active to get tested regularly. An individual’s awareness of their HIV-status plays a key role in preventing infection and lowering the incidence of the disease,” stated the release.

For more information on the prevention of HIV or to make an appointment to be tested, persons should contact the STI /HIV Coordinator on 244 2507 or Therese Prehay, Health Promotion Officer on 244-2632. Article courtesy http://www.caymanreporter.com

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