New strain of HIV detected in Manipur but alarm bells don’t ring yet

IMPHAL Aug. 16: The National AIDS research Institute (Nari) has detected a new HIV hybrid strain in blood samples taken from HIV-positive residents of Manipur but authorities don’t seem to have sat up.

The blood samples have tested positive for the HIV-1 B/C recombinant strain – a combination of of B and C strain of the virus. The strain, which resembles that prevalent in Thailand, is believed to have been acquired through cross-border sex tourism at Moreh-Tamu junction on the Indo-Myanmar border and fingers are being pointed at traders who frequent Thailand.

Experts are viewing the identification of a new strain very seriously as known methods of combating the HIV virus may now have to undergo a sea change.

Dr Priyo, in charge of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) at JN Hospital in Manipur told The Statesman: "A new strain is always worrisome. Apart from HIV 1, HIV-2 strain is also found in patients here. The HIV-2 strain does not respond to Nevirapine therapy."

Yumnam Rupachandra, for The Statesman

The news of a new recombinant strain surprised him. "This is serious," Dr Priyo said. He was surprised that neither the National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco) ~ the nodal organisation for formulation of policy and implementation of programs for prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in India, nor the Manipur Aids Control Society (Macs), had contacted him.

At Macs, officials said on the condition of anonymity that so far, Naco had not asked it to start surveillance of the new strain. Neither Macs, nor the microbiology department at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (Rims) seem to know which blood samples yielded the new strains.

Nari scientists have urged surveillance to check the spread of the new strain. They also want to find out how much more effective the new strain is in spreading HIV from one individual to another. "There is a need to study how well the new recombitant strain responds to treatment of HIV," a Nari scientist said. For thousands living with the disease the news has come as a shock.

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