A new super-mutant HIV strain that makes infected individuals ill in double the time of current versions has been detected in the Netherlands.
According to a study from Oxford University, the new mutant strain called the VB variant, has infected at least 109 people.
The latest strain of HIV damages the immune system, affecting the person's ability to fight against common illnesses much quicker than other strains.
Those who catch the disease could develop AIDs much faster, with the viral load between 3.5 and 5.5 times higher than the current strain, meaning infected people are more likely to transmit the virus than others.
Reports suggest that after starting treatment, those infected with the new strain have a similar immune system recovery and survival rate to those infected with other HIV strains.
Researches have warned however that the rapid health decline after catching VB means early detection and treatment is "critical".
Brits are advised to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV at least once a year, while men having sex with men are advised to get tested every three months.
More than 100,000 Brits and a million Americans are thought to be living with HIV.
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Independent experts have said the finding is nothing to panic about, with the analysis finding that VB arose in the 1980s and has been declining since 2010.
The discover was published in the journal Science, and is the result of a collaboration between the University of Oxford's Big Data institute and the Dutch HIV Monitoring Foundation.
The team have detected a total of 17 new strains across Europe and Uganda.
HIV mutates rapidly, but the vast majority of the changes made between individual strains make little to no difference to the severity of the virus.
It is unclear how the variant emerged, but the team said one option could be an unusually long infection in one person who did not undergo treatment to stop the virus from replicating and evolving.
Scientists do not yet know how the variant is more transmissible and damaging to the immune system.
Dr Chris Wymant, a senior researcher in statistical genetics at Oxford University and the study's lead author, said: "Before this study, the genetics of the HIV virus were known to be relevant for virulence, implying that the evolution of a new variant could change its impact on health.
"Discovery of the VB variant demonstrated this, providing a rare example of the risk posed by viral virulence evolution."
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