By Antony Sguazzin
A South African woman suffering from undertreated HIV and harboring Covid-19 for nine months saw the respiratory virus develop at least 21 mutations in her body, according to a study.
After complying with antiretroviral medication to treat HIV and boosting her immune system, the 22-year-old was able to overcome the Covid-19 infection within six to nine weeks, according to the study, led by scientists from Stellenbosch and the University of KwaZulu-Natal shown. The research has not been peer-reviewed.
The study adds to evidence that Covid-19 can mutate rapidly when harbored by immunocompromised individuals, such as those not taking medication to treat HIV, and this can lead to the development of new variants. The beta variant that infected the patient in the study was discovered in South Africa, as was omicron.
“This case, like others before it, describes a possible pathway for the emergence of new variants,” the scientists said, emphasizing that this is still a hypothesis. “Our experience confirms previous reports that effective antiretroviral treatment is key to controlling such events.”
South Africa has the world’s largest HIV epidemic, with 82,000 of its 600,000 residents infected with the virus, which weakens the immune system.
The coronavirus that harbored the patient in the study developed at least 10 mutations on the spike protein that allows it to attach to cells and 11 other mutations, the scientists said. Some of the changes were common to those of the Omicron and Lambda variants, while others were consistent with mutations that allow the virus to evade antibodies.