US/World

New ‘Virulent’ HIV Strain Spreading Rapidly Through Siberia Identified By Russian Scientists; Accounts For 50 Percent Of New Infections

Trans Siberian Railway
A new severe form of HIV is sweeping through a Siberian region in Russia. yeowatzup, CC BY 2.0

Scientists in Novosibirsk, Russia believe they have identified a new HIV strain that is more severe than others, and it’s spreading at a “rapid rate” throughout Russia, Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The subtype of the HIV virus is referred to as 02_AG/A and was first detected in Novosibirsk in 2006, the Moscow Times reports. It may be the most virulent form of HIV in Russia and accounts for more than 50 percent of new HIV infections in the Novosibirsk region, according to the region’s Koltsovo science city statement. Russia has battled against AIDS for the past decade, and the epidemic appears to be getting worse. “It’s the 1980s in Russia,” Kenneth Rapoza writes on Forbes regarding the HIV/AIDS crisis.

The subtype was discovered by scientists at the State Research Center of Virology and Viotechnology Vektor in Novosibirsk, located in Siberia. There are two groups of the HIV virus, the more virulent HIV-1 and HIV-2. A subtype of HIV-1 known as 02_AG/A is believed to be more easily transmitted compared to other strains of the virus.

The number of people in Novosibirsk infected with HIV has grown from 2,000 in 2007 to 15,000 in 2012, Russia’s Federal AIDS Centre reports. Meanwhile, the United Nations states that Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the only parts of the world where HIV infections are rising, the majority of infected people living in Russia. Roughly one million people out of 143 million in Russia are HIV-positive. The World Bank estimates that by 2020, nearly 21,000 Russians per month could die because of HIV/AIDS. Globally, however, the incidence of HIV infections has dropped by a third since 2001.

“Russia has experienced the fastest-spreading HIV/AIDS epidemics in any one country in history, but there remains a lack of effective preventative measures to slow it down — in large measure because the people most affected are also the country’s most reviled,” Gregory Gilderman of the Pulitzer Center writes. A study completed in 2009 about HIV/AIDS in Russia and Ukraine, which has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, noted that the empowerment of women in particular, “is vital to reversing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” The authors concluded that “it is important to find ways to empower [women] by implementing policies and specific prevention measures that increase their access to knowledge about HIV/AIDS.”

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