Introduction: Little is known about onward HIV transmissions from people living with HIV (PLWH) in care. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has increased in potency, and treatment as prevention (TasP) is an important component of ending the epidemic. Syndemic theory has informed modelling of HIV risk but has yet to inform modelling of HIV transmissions.
Methods: Data were from 61,198 primary HIV care visits for 14,261 PLWH receiving care through the Centers for AIDS Research (CFAR) Network of Integrated Clinical Systems (CNICS) at seven United States (U.S.) sites from 2007 to 2017. Patient-reported outcomes and measures (PROs) of syndemic conditions - depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, drug use (opiates, amphetamines, crack/cocaine) and alcohol use - were collected approximately four to six months apart along with sexual behaviours (mean = 4.3 observations). Counts of syndemic conditions, HIV sexual risk group and time in care were modelled to predict estimated HIV transmissions resulting from sexual behaviour and viral suppression status (HIV RNA < 400/mL) using hierarchical linear modelling.
Results: Patients averaged 0.38 estimated HIV transmissions/100 patients/year for all visits with syndemic conditions measured (down from 0.83, first visit). The final multivariate model showed that per 100 patients, each care visit predicted 0.05 fewer estimated transmissions annually (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.03 to 0.06; p < 0.0005). Cisgender women, cisgender heterosexual men and cisgender men of undisclosed sexual orientation had, respectively, 0.47 (95% CI: 0.35 to 0.59; p < 0.0005), 0.34 (95% CI: 0.20 to 0.49; p < 0.0005) and 0.22 (95% CI: 0.09 to 0.35; p < 0.005) fewer estimated HIV transmissions/100 patients/year than cisgender men who have sex with men (MSM). Each within-patient syndemic condition predicted 0.18 estimated transmissions/100 patients/year (95% CI: 0.12 to 0.24; p < 0.0005). Each between-syndemic condition predicted 0.23 estimated HIV transmissions/100 patients/year (95% CI: 0.17 to 0.28; p < 0.0005).
Conclusions: Estimated HIV transmissions among PLWH receiving care in well-resourced U.S. clinical settings varied by HIV sexual risk group and decreased with time in care, highlighting the importance of TasP efforts. Syndemic conditions remained a significant predictor of estimated HIV transmissions notwithstanding the effects of HIV sexual risk group and time in care.
Keywords: Cohort studies; HIV care continuum; HIV prevention; North America; treatment; viral suppression.
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of the International AIDS Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of the International AIDS Society.