Strains of HIV transmitting in Saskatchewan, Canada, have evolved to more effectively dodge the immune response and lead to faster HIV disease progression, The Guardian reports. The good news is that those who have contracted such a strain respond just as well to antiretroviral treatment as anyone living with other viral strains.

There has been recent concern about an uptick in HIV transmissions in the Canadian province, where four out of five of those with the virus are indigenous people.

Publishing their findings in the journal AIDS, researchers conducted genetic analyses of 1,144 HIV strains collected in Saskatchewan between 2000 and 2016, which came from about 65 percent of the cumulative cases of the virus in the province. They compared the results of those analyses with those of 6,525 viral strains from British Columbia and 6,517 strains from elsewhere in Canada as well as in the United States.

The investigators set their sights on 70 viral mutations and discovered in the Saskatchewan strains higher rates of mutations that would confer an added benefit to HIV in its battle against the immune system. Such mutations would not, however, make the virus transmit more readily.

Notwithstanding the high proportion of the Saskatchewan HIV population who are indigenous people, the study authors stressed that such rapidly progressing HIV disease as seen in the province is not specific to any subgroup of human beings; these mutated viral strains would likely behave similarly among other groups of people.

These findings, the study authors concluded, “underscore the urgent need to expand HIV prevention and treatment programs in Saskatchewan.”

To read the study abstract, click here.

To read the Guardian article, click here.