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© RIA Novosti. Sergey Venyavsky

New HIV strain in Russia spreading rapidly – scientists

by RIA Novosti at 16/10/2013 16:56

Scientists have discovered a new strain of HIV in Russia, and the virus is spreading “at a rapid rate,” the press service for a Siberian scientific research center said Wednesday.

The subtype, called 02_AG/A, was first reported in Russia’s Siberian city of Novosibirsk in 2006 and is now responsible for more than 50 percent of new HIV infections in the region, the press service for the region’s science city Koltsovo said in a statement posted on its website.

The number of HIV-positive people living in the Novosibirsk Region has leaped from about 2,000 in 2007 up to 15,000 in 2012, the statement said, citing Russia’s Federal AIDS Center.

02_AG/A might be the most virulent form of HIV in Russia, Natalya Gashnikova, head of the retroviruses department at state biotechnology research center Vektor – whose specialists discovered the strain – was quoted as saying in the statement, and could spread much faster than Russia's current leading HIV strain, subtype A(I).

The new strain isn’t limited to the vast area of Siberia, either: It has also been detected in Russia’s southern republic of Chechnya, as well as nearby countries Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the statement said.

HIV, a retrovirus that causes slow failure of the immune system, has two types: HIV-1 and HIV-2. The latter is considered less virulent and transmissible.

Scientists say HIV-1 is the most common strain, and divide it into subtypes based on various forms that are grouped in geographic regions around the world.

According to the UN, Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the only region in the world where the HIV infection is clearly on the rise – and 52 percent of HIV-positive people in that region live in Russia.

Yet the disease remains poorly understood in Russia, and according to the Koltsovo press service, research into the spread and properties of new HIV strains is underfunded.

To compound matters, Russian schools generally offer little or no sex education, a factor that is believed to contribute to a high HIV infection rate from lack of awareness about STDs and protection against them.

Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights advocate, said in September that he opposed teaching teenagers about sexual health in school, adding that Russian literature is “the best sex education there is.”

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