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Characterisation of HIV-1 molecular transmission clusters among newly diagnosed individuals infected with non-B subtypes in Italy


Objective We evaluated the characteristics of HIV-1 molecular transmission clusters (MTCs) in 1890 newly diagnosed individuals infected with non-B subtypes between 2005 and 2017 in Italy.

Methods Phylogenetic analyses were performed on pol sequences to characterise subtypes/circulating recombinant forms and identify MTCs. MTCs were divided into small (SMTCs, 2–3 sequences), medium (MMTCs, 4–9 sequences) and large (LMTCs, ≥10 sequences). Factors associated with MTCs were evaluated using logistic regression analysis.

Results 145 MTCs were identified and involved 666 individuals (35.2%); 319 of them (16.9%) were included in 13 LMTCs, 111 (5.9%) in 20 MMTCs and 236 (12.5%) in 112 SMTCs. Compared with individuals out of MTCs, individuals involved in MTCs were prevalently Italian (72.7% vs 30.9%, p<0.001), male (82.9% vs 62.3%, p<0.001) and men who have sex with men (MSM) (43.5% vs 14.5%, p<0.001). Individuals in MTCs were also younger (median (IQR) years: 41 (35–49) vs 43 (36–51), p<0.001) and had higher CD4 cell count in comparison with individuals out of MTCs (median (IQR): 109/L: 0.4 (0.265–0.587) vs 0.246 (0.082–0.417), p<0.001). The viral load remained stable between the two groups (median (IQR) log10 copies/mL: 4.8 (4.2–5.5) vs 5.0 (4.3–5.5), p=0.87). Logistic regression confirmed that certain factors such as being MSM, of Italian origin, younger age and higher CD4 cell count were significantly associated with MTCs.

Conclusions Our findings show that HIV-1 newly diagnosed individuals infected with non-B subtypes are involved in several MTCs in Italy. These MTCs include mainly Italians and MSM and highlight the complex phenomenon characterising the HIV-1 spread. This is important especially in view of monitoring the HIV epidemic and guiding the public health response.

  • HIV
  • transmission dynamics
  • molecular epidemiology
  • virology HIV
  • transmission networks

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