Leveraging Phylogenetics to Understand HIV Transmission and Partner Notification Networks

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2018 Aug 1;78(4):367-375. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001695.


Background: Partner notification is an important component of public health test and treat interventions. To enhance this essential function, we assessed the potential for molecular methods to supplement routine partner notification and corroborate HIV networks.

Methods: All persons diagnosed with HIV infection in Wake County, NC, during 2012-2013 and their disclosed sexual partners were included in a sexual network. A data set containing HIV-1 pol sequences collected in NC during 1997-2014 from 15,246 persons was matched to HIV-positive persons in the network and used to identify putative transmission clusters. Both networks were compared.

Results: The partner notification network comprised 280 index cases and 383 sexual partners and high-risk social contacts (n = 131 HIV-positive). Of the 411 HIV-positive persons in the partner notification network, 181 (44%) did not match to a HIV sequence, 61 (15%) had sequences but were not identified in a transmission cluster, and 169 (41%) were identified in a transmission cluster. More than half (59%) of transmission clusters bridged sexual network partnerships that were not recognized in the partner notification; most of these clusters were dominated by men who have sex with men.

Conclusions: Partner notification and HIV sequence analysis provide complementary representations of the existent partnerships underlying the HIV transmission network. The partner notification network components were bridged by transmission clusters, particularly among components dominated by men who have sex with men. Supplementing the partner notification network with phylogenetic data highlighted avenues for intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Genotyping Techniques / methods*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • HIV-1 / classification*
  • HIV-1 / genetics
  • HIV-1 / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Epidemiology / methods*
  • North Carolina
  • Phylogeny*
  • Young Adult