Genetic makeup of a Greek HIV subtype is under investigation

A rare virus, one of the most complex recombinant subtypes of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS, is responsible for the 2 percent of HIV infections in southern Greece and 10 percent of those in northern Greece. The type I virus is a Greek peculiarity (having been found only in Greece and Cyprus), and its complexity has attracted great interest from both Greek and foreign experts. The virus is under close observation by both the National Retrovirus Reference Center at Athens University Medical School’s Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, under Professor Angelos Hatzakis, and the Northern Greece Reference Center, under Professor Antonis Antoniadis, to see how it responds to methods of diagnosis, drug therapy and the vaccine currently under study. Studies made in Greece show that the molecular profile of HIV differs significantly in Greece from that in other countries such as the US, Italy and Spain, where the B type virus dominates. There are many non-B HIV subtypes, accounting for more than 20 percent of the overall population of carriers, and 50 percent of the heterosexuals and children. There is a high proportion (5 percent) of circulating recombinant forms, made up of a mixture of subtypes. This is important, since recombinant HIV cells are more transmissable, as has become apparent from epidemics in areas such as Thailand, Russia and West Africa. «The most significant problem,» Hatzakis told Kathimerini in an interview, «is that under certain circumstances, where many virus cells coexist, the recombinant cells have survived, which means they have certain advantages and may be transmitted more easily. «We don’t know, because it has not been demonstrated clinically whether these cells are more dangerous, whether they develop faster into AIDS. So we don’t know yet if they are more destructive to humans, but it’s natural that there is some anxiety.»