Researchers in South Africa have found various dangerous coronavirus mutations in a 36-year-old woman with HIV who carried COVID-19 infection for 216 days and it developed over 30 virus mutations inside her body.
According to a report which was published as a case report, the woman was diagnosed with HIV back in 2006 and her immune system has weakened gradually over time. After she got infected with COVID-19 in September 2020, the virus accumulated 13 mutations to the spike protein and 19 other genetic shifts that could change the behaviour of the virus.
Mutants seen as variants of concern
1. The E484K mutation, which is part of the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7, which was first seen in the UK).
2. The N510Y mutation, which is part of the Beta variant (B.1.351, which was first seen in South Africa).
The researchers and their statements
As per the researchers, it was not clear if the woman circulated on these mutations to others. However, researchers said it’s probably not a coincidence that most of the new variants have emerged from areas like KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, where almost 1 in every 4 adults is HIV positive.
According to Tulio de Oliveira who is a geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban and the study’s author, ‘Immunosuppressed patients could carry COVID-19 virus longer than others’. In the case of the woman, de Oliveira said she showcased mild symptoms of COVID-19 during her initial symptoms, even though she was still carrying the COVID-19 virus.
HIV patients and their immune system against COVID-19
There is limited evidence to suggest that HIV-infected people are more prone to contracting Covid-19 and developing severe medical consequences, researchers say if more such cases are found, patients with advanced HIV could “become a factory of variants for the whole world”.
Dr. Juan Ambrosini, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Barcelona, said that-
“But it is probably the exception rather than the rule for people living with HIV, because prolonged infection requires severe immunocompromise, indeed, the woman in the case study was immunosuppressed. The findings are important for the control of COVID-19 because these patients could be a continuous source of transmission and evolution of the virus.”
Researchers statement on testing and the mutation’s effect on India
The researcher called for expanding testing and treatments for those who are living with undetected HIV, as it would reduce mortality from HIV, reduce transmission of HIV, and also would lessen the chance of generating new COVID-19 variants that could cause other waves of infections.
The further studies suggest that, a strong link between mutation and the spread of COVID-19 virus in HIV patients, it would be a huge cause of worry for India, which has almost 1 million people with untreated HIV infections.