The new ‘untreatable’ HIV strain was fake news

HIV/AIDS activists protest in the Philippines in December 2016. The country has one of the highest infection rates in the world. Associated Press

Philippine HIV rates continue to climb, but there is no new, untreatable strain of the virus.

That’s the word from the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization, which responded to news outlets that had reported a new strain.

Between 2000 and 2016, the Philippines showed the highest increase of new infections of any country — 140 percent, the organizations report. And this year’s rates are higher than last year’s, according to the country’s health/epidemiology bureau.

“Insufficient access to prevention and treatment are the main drivers of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines,” UNAIDS and the WHO said.

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While there is no new strain or no untreatable strain there, the HIV subtype in the country has changed from predominantly B to the circulating recombinant form CRF01_AE, predominant in Southeast Asia.

“There is no new strain of HIV which has been found in the Philippines,” said Louie R. Ocampo, country director for UNAIDS Philippines. “The variants of the virus found in the Philippines have not changed and are similar to the strains of the virus found in many parts of Asia and in other parts of the world.”

The CRF01_AE in the Philippines has not been documented to be more infectious than other subtypes or circulating recombinant forms, the global organizations reported. All HIV-1 subtypes can be expected to respond to currently recommended anti-retroviral therapy regimens.

WHO and UNAIDS noted that drug resistance develops when people are unable to take their drugs regularly, and then individuals may transmit that drug resistance. They call for the country to expand testing and better monitor service delivery.

“HIV is an ever-evolving virus,” their report says. “Literature reviews suggest possible differences in transmission and disease progression between different HIV-subtypes.

“However, disease progression depends on many factors such as age, genes and presence of other infections.”

All patients on treatment need to take their treatment daily, the update stressed.

“Viral load level needs to be assessed periodically to ensure that the treatment is effective,” the report said. “If a person who takes medicines regularly does not achieve viral load suppression in a certain time frame, s/he may need to be shifted to another treatment regimen.”

The country’s health/epidemiology bureau reported 1,201 new HIV cases in January 2018, up from 834 new cases in January 2017, according to the Manila Bulletin. An average of 33 people are diagnosed each day.

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