HIV transmission patterns among transgender women, their cisgender male partners, and cisgender MSM in Lima, Peru: A molecular epidemiologic and phylodynamic analysis

Lancet Reg Health Am. 2022 Feb;6:100121. doi: 10.1016/j.lana.2021.100121. Epub 2021 Nov 17.


Background: Transgender women (TW) in Peru are disproportionately affected by HIV. The role that cisgender men who have sex with TW (MSTW) and their sexual networks play in TW's risk of acquiring HIV is not well understood. We used HIV sequences from TW, MSTW, and cisgender men who have sex with men (MSM) to examine transmission dynamics between these groups.

Methods: We used HIV-1 pol sequences and epidemiologic data collected through three Lima-based studies from 2013 to 2018 (n = 139 TW, n = 25 MSTW, n = 303 MSM). We identified molecular clusters based on pairwise genetic distance and used structured coalescent phylodynamic modeling to estimate transmission patterns between groups.

Findings: Among 200 participants (43%) found in 62 clusters, the probability of clustering did not differ by group. Both MSM and TW were more likely to cluster with members of their own group than would be expected based on random mixing. Phylodynamic modeling estimated that there was frequent transmission from MSTW to TW (67·9% of transmission from MSTW; 95%CI = 52·8-83·2%) and from TW to MSTW (76·5% of transmissions from TW; 95%CI = 65·5-90·3%). HIV transmission between MSM and TW was estimated to comprise a small proportion of overall transmissions (4·9% of transmissions from MSM, and 11·8% of transmissions from TW), as were transmissions between MSM and MSTW (7·2% of transmissions from MSM, and 32·0% of transmissions from MSTW).

Interpretation: These results provide quantitative evidence that MSTW play an important role in TW's HIV vulnerability and that MSTW have an HIV transmission network that is largely distinct from MSM.