Coronavirus mutated 32 times in HIV+ South Africa woman: Study
A 36-year-old woman in South Africa with advanced HIV carried the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 for 216 days, a new study has found. The study—which is yet to be peer-reviewed—also found that the virus accumulated over 30 mutations over the period, including 13 mutations to the spike protein, which plays a crucial role in initiating infection in a host. Here are more details.
Woman contracted COVID-19 last September
The study was published as a preprint in the medical journal medRxiv on Thursday. According to the study, the woman was diagnosed with HIV in 2006. Over time, her immune system weakened. She contracted COVID-19 in September 2020 and the coronavirus has accumulated 32 mutations. Notably, some of these mutations have been observed in Variants of Concern (VoCs).
Mutations found in Alpha, Beta variants detected
Out of the 32 mutations, 13 mutations were related to the spike protein, while 19 other genetic shifts were located elsewhere which could change the behavior of the virus. The virus had the E484K mutation, found in the Alpha variant B.1.1.7 (first detected in the United Kingdom), and N510Y mutation, found in the Beta variant B.1.351, (first detected in South Africa), the study said.
Possible link between frequent mutations and HIV
Researchers said it remains unclear if these mutations were passed to others. Researchers also suggested a possible link between the frequent emergence of new variants from KwaZulu-Natal and the high prevalence of HIV. Patients with advanced HIV could "become a factory of variants for the whole world," Tulio de Oliveira—a geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who led the research—told the Los Angeles Times.
'Important to trace, treat unrecognized, insufficiently treated HIV'
The new findings make it more pertinent to diagnose and treat people with unrecognized or insufficiently treated HIV, De Oliveira said. This, De Oliveira said, "would reduce mortality from HIV, reduce transmission of HIV, and also reduce the chance of generating new COVID variants that could cause other waves of infections." India notably has 1 million people with untreated HIV infections.
'This is a syndemic,' says expert
Dr. Jonathan Li, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, told the publication, "This is a syndemic." A syndemic or "synergistic epidemic" is a term describing the aggregation of two epidemics that could worsen the outcomes for both diseases.