Lost and found: applying network analysis to public health contact tracing for HIV

Appl Netw Sci. 2021;6(1):13. doi: 10.1007/s41109-021-00355-w. Epub 2021 Feb 17.


Infectious disease surveillance is often case-based, focused on people diagnosed and their contacts in a predefined time window, and treated as independent across infections. Network analysis of partners and contacts joining multiple investigations and infections can reveal social or temporal trends, providing opportunities for epidemic control within broader networks. We constructed a sociosexual network of all HIV and early syphilis cases and contacts investigated among residents of 11 contiguous counties in North Carolina over a two-year period (2012-2013). We anchored the analysis on new HIV diagnoses ("indexes"), but also included nodes and edges from syphilis investigations that were within the same network component as any new HIV index. After adding syphilis investigations and deduplicating people included in multiple investigations (entity resolution), the final network comprised 1470 people: 569 HIV indexes, 700 contacts to HIV indexes who were not also new cases themselves, and 201 people who were either indexes or contacts in eligible syphilis investigations. Among HIV indexes, nearly half (48%; n = 273) had no located contacts during single-investigation contact tracing, though 25 (9%) of these were identified by other network members and thus not isolated in the final multiple investigation network. Constructing a sociosexual network from cases and contacts across multiple investigations mitigated some effects of unobserved partnerships underlying the HIV epidemic and demonstrated the HIV and syphilis overlap in these networks.

Keywords: Contact tracing; Epidemiology; HIV-1; North Carolina; Partner notification; Public health; Sexual networks; Syphilis.