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Fact Check-Highly virulent variant of HIV circulating in the Netherlands predates COVID-19 pandemic

Some social media users are misrepresenting the findings of a recent paper about a newly discovered highly virulent variant of HIV that is circulating in the Netherlands, but which still responds to current treatments.

Some users have erroneously claimed the variant was “created” by COVID-19 vaccines. This is false: while recently identified, the “VB variant” predates de COVID-19 pandemic and patients analyzed in the paper were infected between the 2000s and early 2010, one of the authors told Reuters.

One Twitter user wrote: “What will you do when it is found that HIV is in the vaccine via Spike protein? New HIV strain found in the Netherlands: Highly infectious variant makes people ill twice as quick. There are no coincidences!” (here)

“A serious outbreak of HIV cases found in the Netherlands. Source – Daily Mail. Any connection with the Covid jabs, I wonder? This has Fauci written all over it,” reads another tweet (here).

Reuters has previously addressed other allegations around the false narratives that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines cause HIV or that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was developed with a genetic code of HIV (here).

The study in question, led by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and published on Feb. 3, 2022 in the journal Science (here), identified a “highly virulent variant of subtype-B HIV-1.” The observations are based on 109 individuals that have been infected with this variant: 107 in the Netherlands and two in Switzerland and Belgium.

“There is absolutely no basis to the claim of an association between COVID, or COVID vaccination, and the severity of infection in those infected with the VB variant of HIV,” senior author Professor Christophe Fraser from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, told Reuters via email.

“Such an association is strictly impossible due to the timing of when the data were collected and analyses, and when the patients were infected,” he said.

The study states that genetic sequence analysis suggests the variant arose in the 1990s.

Fraser explained how the researchers were able to trace this date: “using the genetic diversity of the viruses within the lineage, we constructed a family tree of the viruses, and used a molecular clock to date the emergence.” Furthermore, most of the cases analyzed in the study were diagnosed in the 2000s and early 2010s, he added.

According to the study, the “VB variant” causes a higher viral load, a more rapid CD4 cell decline and an increased risk of transmissibility. After treatment, individuals have a similar immune system recovery and survival as individuals with other HIV variants, the study stresses.

Authors of the study have also stated the public doesn’t need to be worried about these findings, but rather they emphasize the importance of regular testing, early diagnosis, and immediate HIV treatment (here), (here).

VERDICT

False. A recently discovered, more virulent HIV variant arose in the 1990s, according to authors of a study. It was not caused by COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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