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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22245. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022245. Epub 2011 Jul 20.

Transmission patterns of HIV and hepatitis C virus among networks of people who inject drugs.

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  • 1National HIV and Retrovirology Laboratories, Public Health Agency of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



The risk-related behaviours and practices associated with injection drug use remain a driver of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission throughout the world. Here we evaluated HIV and HCV transmission patterns in the context of social networks of injection drug users (IDU) recruited from a higher incidence region in order to better understand factors that contribute to ongoing transmission among IDU.


IDU recruited through a chain-referral method provided biological specimens for analysis. HIV and HCV positive specimens were sequenced and analyzed using phylogenetic methods (Neighbour-joining and bayesian) and transmission patterns of HIV and HCV evaluated in the context of the recruitment networks.


Among the 407 recruited IDU, HCV and HIV prevalence were 60.6% and 10.1%, respectively; 98% of HIV positive individuals were co-infected with HCV. Thirty-six percent of HCV sequences were associated with clusters, compared to 67% of HIV sequences. Four (16.7%) of the 24 HCV clusters contained membership separated by 2 or fewer recruitment cycles, compared to 10 (41.6%) derived from more than one recruitment component. Two (28.6%) of the 7 HIV clusters contained membership separated by 2 or fewer recruitment cycles while 6 (85.7%) were composed of inter component membership.


Few HIV and HCV transmissions coincided with the recruitment networks, suggesting that they occurred in a different social context or a context not captured by the recruitment network. However, among the complete cohort, a higher degree of HIV clustering indicates many are recent infections originating from within current social networks, whereas a larger proportion of HCV infections may have occurred earlier in injecting history and in the context of a different social environment.

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