An aggressive new strain of HIV has been identified, scientists have warned.
A new study found the strain, called CRF19, is capable of transforming from an infection to full-blown aids within just three years.
That is considerably faster than the average conversion time of around 10 years – and can be so quick that a person may not even realise they are infected.
Scientists were prompted to investigate after noting a growing number of reports of people in Cuba suffering a rapid progression to AIDS, within three years of infection.
HIV tests often do not detect the virus within the first few weeks of infection, sometimes months.
Once a person develops the flu-like symptoms that characterise acute infection – usually coming two to four weeks after infection – the virus undergoes a latency period.
During that time the virus replicates and lives inside the body, but does not cause any symptoms.
That period can last between five and 10 years before AIDS develops, in most cases.
But researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium noted the CRF19 strain causes patients to make the transition to AIDS much faster.
It can be so quick that a person may not even realise they are infected.
Researcher Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme told MailOnline: ‘Cuban clinicians were asking us to collaborate with them to investigate why they were noticing an increase in patients progressing to AIDS much faster than before.
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