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HIV type 1 (HIV-1) displays a greater degree of genetic and antigenic variability than any other virus studied. This diversity reflects a high mutation rate during viral replication with a large turnover of virus, and a high tolerance of variation while maintaining reproductive capacity. Generation of diversity is a common property of lentiviruses such as HIV. Differences in virulence and in transmissibility are seen between different HIV-1 strains which may have clinical implications. The great degree of HIV diversity presents challenges to maintaining sensitivity to antiretroviral therapy and to the development of preventive strategies such as microbicides and vaccines.