For the first time in 19 years, a team of scientists discovered a new strain of HIV.
The strain is part of the group M version of HIV-1, the same family of virus subspecies responsible for the global HIV pandemic, according to Abbott Laboratories, who conducted the study with the University of Missouri, Kansas City. The results were published Wednesday in the journal of acquired immune deficiency syndromes.
HIV has several different subtypes or strains and, like other viruses, has the ability to change and mutate over time. This is the first new group M HIV strain identified since the establishment of the subtype classification guidelines in 2000. It is important to know what strains of the virus are circulating to ensure that the tests used to detect the disease , are effective.
"It can be a real challenge for diagnostic tests," says Mary Rogers, co-author of the report and chief scientist at Abbott. Her company is testing more than 60% of the world's blood supply, she said, and they need to look for new strains and track those in circulation so "we can find it exactly wherever it is in the world."  Dr. Anthony Foci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said current treatments for HIV are effective against this strain and others. However, identifying a new strain provides a more complete map of the development of HIV.
"There is little reason to panic or even worry about it," Fauchi said. "Not many people are infected with this.
In order for scientists to declare that this is a new subtype, three cases must be discovered independently. The first two were found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1983 and 1990.
The two strains are "very unusual and do not match other strains," Rogers says. The third sample, discovered in the Congo, was collected in 2001 as part of a study aimed at preventing the transmission of the virus from a mother to a child. The sample was small, and although it looked similar to the two older samples, scientists wanted to test the entire genome to be sure. At the time, there was no technology to determine if this was the new subtype.
So scientists at Abbott and the University of Missouri developed new techniques for exploring and mapping the 2001 sample. Rogers said it was "like looking for a needle in hay" and then "pulling the needle with a magnet."
They were able to completely sequence the sample, which means that they were able to create a complete picture of what it was and to determine that it was actually a subtype L of group M.
It is not clear how this variant the virus can affect the body differently if it actually acts differently. Current treatment for HIV can combat a wide variety of viral strains and it is believed that these treatments can combat this newly named one.
"This finding reminds us that in order to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to think that this is a constantly changing virus and use the latest advances in technology and resources to track its development," the study co-author , Dr. Carol McArthur, a professor in the Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, said in a statement.
About 36.7 million people worldwide live with HIV, according to the World Health Organization. UNAIDS estimates that in 2016, about 1.8 million people were newly infected.