Objectives: This study examined whether networks of drug-injecting and sexual relationships among drug injectors are associated with individual human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) serostatus and with behavioral likelihood of future infection.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of 767 drug injectors in New York City was performed with chain-referral and linking procedures to measure large-scale (sociometric) risk networks. Graph-theoretic algebraic techniques were used to detect 92 connected components (drug injectors linked to each other directly or through others) and a 105-member 2-core within a large connected component of 230 members.
Results: Drug injectors in the 2-core of the large component were more likely than others to be infected with HIV. Seronegative 2-core members engaged in a wide range of high-risk behaviors, including engaging in risk behaviors with infected drug injectors.
Conclusions: Sociometric risk networks seem to be pathways along which HIV travels in drug-injecting peer groups. The cores of large components can be centers of high-risk behaviors and can become pockets of HIV infection. Preventing HIV from reaching the cores of large components may be crucial in preventing widespread HIV epidemics.