A new HIV strain has mutated in some patients in Cuba and it appears to be much more aggressive and can develop into its worse older brother, AIDS, within just three years of infection. Researchers have said that the progression of this new strain of HIV happens so fast that treatment with antiretroviral drugs may no longer be enough to combat the disease.

In most HIV cases without treatment, HIV infection would take somewhere in the region of 5 to 10 years to turn into AIDS. This is according to Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a medical professor at Belgium’s University of Leuven. According to the new study, published in the journal EBioMedicine, Vandamme was alerted to the new aggressive strain of HIV by Cuban health officials who wanted to find out what was happening.

Vandamme stated when asked about her patients, “This group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected, and we know that because they had been HIV-negative tested one or a maximum two years before.”

What is frightening about that issue is that although none of the patients had received treatment for HIV, all of the patients infected with the mutated strain of the disease developed AIDS within three short years.

Fast progression of HIV to AIDS can occur in regular patients and is usually the result of a weakened immune system rather than the particular subtype of HIV. What is happening in Cuba is different.

Vandamme would continue and say, “Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant and tried to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes.” The new variant Vandamme is speaking of, now named CRF19, is a combination of HIV subtypes A, D and G.

HIV normally infects cells by attaching itself to what are called co-receptors, and the transition to AIDS usually occurs when the virus switches, usually, as mentioned above, in about 5 to 10 years and from there the co-receptor CCR5 changes to co-receptor CXCR4. The new strain makes the switch at a much increased rate.

This is not the first time we have seen this variation though. The variant has previously been observed in Africa. The issue here was that there were far few cases to be fully studied and the patients suffering from this particular strain were too scattered. Researchers have stated that the strain is more widespread in Cuba.

The good news is that the new strain does respond to antiretroviral drugs, but the issue is with such a fast progression people may not realize they have HIV before can develop to such a level that the drugs and treatment will do no good for the patients. Vandamme has said it’s vital for people having unprotected sex with multiple partners to be tested for HIV early and often and stressed that with the disease mutating to be even more vigilant in the case of diseases.