Scientists in South Africa have detected 32 COVID-19 mutations in a 36-year-old woman with advanced HIV.
The scientists disclosed their findings in a study published as a pre-print on medRxiv on Thursday.
The scientists also reported that the woman had carried the novel coronavirus for seven months (216 days) during which the virus mutated at least 30 times inside her.
According to the study, some of the detected mutations were variants of concern including the B.1.17, first seen in the United Kingdom, and the B.1.351 variant which was first seen in South Africa.
While the study has not been peer-reviewed, the researchers say their finding suggests HIV could contribute to variant evolution in exceptional cases.
As reported by Business Insider Africa, the woman, who has not been named, was identified as a 36-year-old living in South Africa.
The coronaviruses, the researchers disclosed, gathered 13 mutations to the spike protein, which is known to help the virus escape the immune response and 19 other mutations that could change the behavior of the virus.
The scientists, however, noted that it is not clear whether the mutations from the woman were passed on to others.
The author of the study and a geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, Tulio de Oliveira said the prospect that HIV infection could be a source of new variants because patients could carry the virus for longer is high if more of such cases are found.
The case of the woman, Olivera said, could have gone unnoticed as she displayed only mild symptoms of COVID-19, noting that scientists spotted her because she was enrolled in a study of 300 people with HIV whose immune response to COVID-19 was under examination.
The researchers also found that four other people with HIV had carried the coronavirus for longer than a month.
Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Barcelona, Spain, Dr. Juan Ambrosini, however, told Business Insider that the case of the woman is probably an exception rather than the rule for people living with HIV, noting that the woman was severely immunocompromised.
The findings, Ambrosini said, would nevertheless, be important for the control of COVID-19 because immunocompromised patients could be a continuous source of transmission and evolution of the virus.
Ambrosini also told Business Insider that some patients who have been immunosuppressed for other reasons have been seen to carry the coronavirus for prolonged periods, adding that there have been reported cases of people with kidney transplants testing positive for almost a year.
The study, the researchers said, could be important for Africa which has over 37 million people living with HIV.
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