Researchers in South Africa have documented a case of a woman with HIV who has been infected with COVID-19 for months and has seen the virus mutate in her.
The woman, who is 36 years old, first became ill in September 2020 and has been testing positive for the disease for more than seven months.
In addition, the virus that still remains in her body has undergone more than 30 genetic changes.
The team, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, say the findings represent the first real evidence that patients with untreated HIV may have weakened immune systems that allow the coronavirus to take root and mutate into potentially deadly variants that can be spread to others. people .
A South African woman, 36, with uncontrolled HIV became infected with COVID-19 in September 2020 and was infected for seven months. Pictured: A retiree receives first dose of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 24
Six months after she became ill, two of her three medications she was taking to treat her HIV were switched, and after her viral load was suppressed, she eventually tested negative for COVID-19 (above)
Currently, the United Nations estimates that 7.5 million adults and children in South Africa are infected with HIV (immunodeficiency virus).
Once a person contracts HIV, the virus begins to attack and destroy immune cells that normally protect the body from infection, and can lead to the potentially deadly disease AIDS.
In South Africa, HIV infections often go undetected and nearly 10 percent of people are believed to be unaware that they have the virus.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV patients who receive effective treatment are believed not to have a higher risk of coming into contact with the virus or developing more serious complications.
The findings of the study, posted on the pre-print site medRxiv.org, are the first evidence to suggest that HIV-infected people can mutate the virus multiple times in their bodies.
South African patient was diagnosed with HIV in 2006, but doctors were unable to control her viral load with tradition Antiretroviral therapy.
The combination or “cocktail” of known drugs suppresses a person’s viral load until it is virtually undetectable, meaning it cannot be transmitted.
In addition, the woman had very low levels of CD4+ T cells, which help the body make antibodies and help CD8+ T cells kill cells infected with coronavirus.
The woman visited a hospital in September 2020 after experiencing symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and breathing difficulties for 12 days.
She tested positive for COVID-19, was given oxygen and was discharged after nine days.
But even after they were discharged, the tests remained positive, lasting 216 days.
Researchers found that the virus underwent 32 genetic changes, 13 of which were linked to the spike protein, where the virus is used to enter and infect cells.
Researchers found that the virus mutated 32 times in her body (above), including 13 changes in the spike protein the virus used to enter and infect cells
Other mutations were similar to those found in variants, including the Alpha variant (from the UK) and the Beta variant (from South Africa).
During this time, the woman was one of 300 participants who took part in a study and was finally able to clear the infection and examine the effects of HIV on Covid infection.
Six months into her examination, two of the drugs in her “cocktail” had changed, and within two weeks her viral load had been suppressed.
Finally, on day 233, after testing positive for the first time, she finally tested negative.
It’s too early to say if the woman is a unique case, but if not, it could mean patients with uncontrolled HIV could spread potentially lethal variants.
They could become “a factory of variants for the whole world,” lead author Dr Tulio DeOliviera, a geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, told the Los Angeles Times.
He added that expanding HIV testing and treatment “would reduce HIV mortality, reduce HIV transmission and also reduce the chances of new COVID variants emerging that could cause other waves of infection.”