"HIV Release" by Bette Korber at Los Alamos National Laboratory / Public Domain

First New HIV Strain in 19 Years Identified

Nov 8, 2019

By Karen Weintraub

A research group at the medical-device and health care giant Abbott has discovered a new strain of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV—the first to be identified in 19 years. Abbott continues to look for potential new HIV strains to ensure that diagnostic tests for blood screening and detecting infectious diseases remain up to date, says Mary Rodgers, senior author of the paper announcing the finding and head of the company’s Global Viral Surveillance Program.

The new strain, called HIV-1 group M subtype L, is extremely rare and can be detected by Abbott’s current screening system, Rodgers says. The company’s tests screen more than 60 percent of the global blood supply, she adds, noting it must detect every strain and “has to be right every time.”

In the early days of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, some blood donors unaware that they had HIV added the virus to the blood supply. A large number of patients who needed regular blood transfusions—among them, many with hemophilia—ended up contracting HIV and often dying. The supply has been essentially clear of HIV for years, and Rodgers says efforts such as Abbott’s will help keep it that way.

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