HIV Among MSM in London Spreading in ‘Bursts,’ Study Finds
HIV among men who have sex with men in London is spreading in "bursts," according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and recently published in PLoS Medicine, BBC News reports (BBC News, 3/18).
For the study, Andrew Brown of the university and colleagues compared the sequences of HIV genes of more than 2,000 HIV-positive people, primarily MSM, who received treatment at a London clinic between 1997 and 2003. The study found that 402 sequences closely matched at least one other sequence. In addition, the study found that the participants whose HIV sequence matched other sequences had formed six clusters of 10 or more people, as well as several smaller clusters (United Press International, 3/19).
According to the study, many MSM who contracted HIV transmitted it to another person within a few months, often before they realized they were HIV-positive. "What we have discovered is that some of the spread occurred in bursts, with groups of people becoming infected within a short period of time," Brown said. He added that by studying changes in HIV, the researchers were "able to pinpoint its progress in stages."
Brown added that such transmission patterns have been found before among injection drug users but had not previously been found in people who contracted HIV through sexual contact. He said the "tightness of the clusters" is "frightening" and brings up concerns about the possibility that a drug-resistant form of HIV could "spread quickly, spreading a mini-epidemic" (BBC News, 3/18).
According to Brown, the findings suggest that messages about safer sex practices are "not getting through." The researchers recommended that HIV prevention programs target bars and night clubs and be communicated over the Internet to curb sexual transmission of the virus (PA/Arbroath Herald, 3/19). "It is important that information on the virus is available to [MSM] in the local areas where they are known to meet, to try to arrest the spread of HIV/AIDS," Brown said (BBC News, 3/18).
The study is available online.