New Mutated HIV Strains Found In Canada Lead To Quicker Illness

A laboratory technician examines blood samples for the HIV virus. Researchers found that HIV strains in Canada's Saskatchewan providence have become more aggressive. Eliseo Fernandez/REUTERS

Mutated strains of HIV that have made the virus progress faster are circulating in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

After hearing anecdotal evidence from people in Saskatchewan, where HIV rates rank among the highest in North America, scientists from Vancouver's Simon Fraser University decided to investigate.

"Physicians were saying, 'There's something going on here that isn't right, people are getting sick very, very fast,'" Zabrina Brumme, lead author of the study, told the CBC.

New HIV strains in Saskatchewan lead to faster progression in Indigenous people

— CBC Newfoundland and Labrador (@CBCNL) July 27, 2018

She added it was almost as if the virus was "nastier."

The researchers analyzed 70 mutations and discovered that more than 98 percent of HIV sequences collected in the area recently had at least one major immune-resistant mutation.

The findings, published in the scientific journal AIDS, looked closely at Saskatchewan, where HIV rates in 2016 exceeded the national average tenfold in some places.

The virus disproportionately affects the indigenous population. About 80 percent of those infected in the province are indigenous. However, Brumme warned that these HIV strains in Saskatchewan have the potential to cause more rapid disease in all people, regardless of ethnic background.

"This isn't a health issue restricted to a specific group of people. This is news that there's a pathogen. Strains are nastier in this location," she said.

While the results of their study come with concerning news, HIV treatment is fully active against these strains, Jeffrey Joy, a researcher with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, told The Guardian.

"If people get on treatment, they're going to have the same outcome as anyone else," he said. "And have the secondary benefit of not passing those strains on to other people."

After the release of their findings, the researchers hope to go back to the Canadian province to encourage testing for early detection and treatment.