The Vektor Virology and Biotechnologies Research Center in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk region, has found a new HIV-1 strain, which is spreading rapidly in Russia and neighboring countries.

HIV, a retrovirus that causes the immune system to slowly fail of, has two types: HIV-I and HIV-II, each of which has numerous subtypes - C (I) is common in Africa, A (I) in Russia and B in the United States and Europe.

Viral strains may exchange genetic information in human cells, which is called a recombination process. Each recombinant virus is given a number.

"Vektor specialists have discovered a new genetic version of HIV-I in Russia, a blend of the recombinant virus 02_AG and Russia's subtype A," the center said.

The new strain is spreading at high rates in Siberia (Kemerovo, Novokuznetsk, Blagoveshchensk and Khabarovsk) and has appeared in Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

02_AG/A might be the most virulent form of HIV in Russia, said Natalya Gashnikova, head of the retroviruses department at the Vektor.

She said the virus could spread much faster than Russia's current leading HIV strain, subtype A(I).

The subtype, known as 02_AG/A, was first detected in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk in 2006 and now accounts for more than 50 percent of new HIV infections in the region.

Seventeen samples of blood plasma were taken from HIV-I infected people for research purposes. Nine of them were identified as subtypes A and B and the recombinant virus 02_AG. The other eight belonged to the new recombinant strain, 02_AG/A HIV-I.

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