Role of the primary infection in epidemics of HIV infection in gay cohorts

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr (1988). 1994 Nov;7(11):1169-84.


A review of the data on infectivity per contact for transmission of the HIV suggests that the infectivity may be on the order of 0.1-0.3 per anal intercourse in the period of the initial infection, 10(-4) to 10(-3) in the long asymptomatic period, and 10(-3) to 10(-2) in the period leading into AIDS. The pattern of high contagiousness during the primary infection followed by a large drop in infectiousness may explain the pattern of epidemic spread seen in male homosexual cohorts in the early years of the epidemic. Simulations of cohorts of homosexual males, using that range of parameter values, indicate the following: (a) The initial fast rise and then more or less rapid flattening of the incidence curve of seropositives is primarily due to rapid initial spread, yielding a group of infecteds all of whom pass into the low infectivity asymptomatic period at close to the same time. All this occurs only if the basic reproduction number for the primary infection is > 1. (b) The behavioral changes that have been reported all started after the incidence of new infections began to fall, too late to have a major effect on the initial rise. The behavioral changes had a major effect in slowing down the subsequent rise in the number of seropositives. (c) High activity groups play an important role in the early rapid rise of the epidemic. However, it is not likely that the rapid decrease in rate of growth of seropositives is solely due to saturation of these very high activity groups. Although the evidence for this interpretation of the role of the primary infection is not conclusive, its implications for prevention and for vaccine trials are so markedly different from those of other interpretations that we consider it to be an important hypothesis for further testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Computer Simulation
  • Disease Outbreaks* / statistics & numerical data
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Probability
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Viremia / epidemiology