Key Points

• Human immunodeficiency virus belongs to the viral group of Retroviridae, named for its capacity to synthesize DNA using RNA as a template. The subgroup is Lentivirinae, characterized by a long incubation period.

• HIV-1 is found globally, whereas HIV-2 is found mainly in western Africa, although cases of HIV-2 are being seen more frequently in the United States.

• HIV-1 is further subdivided into group M, O, and N, with group M (subdivided into 10 clades) causing most infections worldwide.

• Billions of virions are turned over daily in the virus, leading to frequent mutations and genetic variations.

Human immunodeficiency virus belongs to the group of viruses called retroviruses, so named because of their capacity to synthesize deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) using ribonucleic acid (RNA) as a template, facilitated by the enzyme reverse transcriptase. Within the retrovirus class, HIV belongs to the lentivirus subgroup; lentiviruses are characterized by a long incubation period, allowing the infected person to spread the infection because they may remain unaware of their own HIV status (Chiu et al., 1985).

Of the two genetically distinct viral types of HIV, type 1 (HIV-1) is associated with global disease, whereas type 2

(HIV-2) is found mainly in western Africa, although cases of HIV-2 have started to appear in the United States. HIV-1 variants are further divided into group M (main), group O (outlier), and group N (non-M/non-O). As suggested by the name, group M causes most of the infections worldwide and is further subdivided into 10 subtypes, or clades (A-K). Clade C is the most common worldwide, and clade B is most frequently seen in North America and Europe. More than 20 sub-subtypes and circulating recombinant forms (CRFs) are seen in group M alone. AE is a recombinant subtype transmitted most effectively by heterosexual contact and most prevalent in Southeast Asia (Buonaguro et al., 2007). As billions of virions are turned over in the virus on a daily basis, mutations and genetic variations are quite common, a fact that becomes relevant when treatment is considered.

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