Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mutated Strains of HIV in Saskatchewan Causing Illness Quicker: Study

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mutated Strains of HIV in Saskatchewan Causing Illness Quicker: Study

Article excerpt

Mutated strains of HIV circulating in Saskatchewan

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AMSTERDAM - Research suggests mutated strains of HIV circulating in Saskatchewan are leading to faster-developing AIDS-related illnesses among Indigenous people.

Physicians in the province are seeing cases where people have advanced very quickly from being relatively healthy to having an extremely compromised immune system.

"Instead of it taking years, sometimes it just takes a month or a year ... and it's much more aggressive than we would otherwise see," said Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease physician with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

The research from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and Simon Fraser University was presented at the 2018 AIDS conference in Amsterdam on Thursday. It shows that the strains of HIV in Saskatchewan have high levels of immune-resistant mutations compared with ones in other areas of Canada and the United States.

"Physicians were saying there's something going on here that isn't right -- people are getting sick very, very fast," said Zabrina Brumme, lead author of the study and associate professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University.

"It's almost as if the virus is nastier."

Saskatchewan's HIV rates are among the highest in North America. Those in some areas in 2016 were more than 10 times the national average. Nearly 80 per cent of people with HIV in the province are Indigenous.

The researchers hypothesized that the quickly developing illnesses were linked with resistant strains that had adapted to the specific immune profile of Indigenous people.

"In Saskatchewan, like other places in the world, HIV is adapting to the host populations in which it is circulating," Brumme said. "In Saskatchewan, the majority of HIV-affected persons are of Indigenous ancestry, so HIV as a result has adapted to these populations."

The multi-year analysis compared more than 2,300 HIV sequences from Saskatchewan with sets from elsewhere in Canada and the United States. …

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