Objective: To prospectively study changes in the social networks of persons at presumably high risk for HIV in a community with low prevalence and little endogenous transmission.
Methods: From a cohort of 595 persons at high risk (prostitutes, injecting drug users, and sexual partners of these persons) and nearly 6000 identified contacts, we examined the social networks of a subset of 96 persons who were interviewed once per year for 3 years. We assessed their network configuration, network stability, and changes in risk configuration and risk behavior using epidemiologic and social network analysis, and visualization techniques.
Results: Some significant decrease in personal risk-taking was documented during the course of the study, particularly with regard to needle-sharing. The size and number of connected components (groups that are completely connected) declined. Microstructures (small subgroups of persons that interact intensely) were either not present, or declined appreciably during the period of observation.
Conclusions: In this area of low prevalence, the lack of endogenous transmission of HIV may be related in part to the lack of a network structure that fosters active propagation, despite the continued presence of risky behaviors. Although the relative contribution of network structure and personal behavior cannot be ascertained from these data, the study suggests an important role for network configuration in the transmission dynamics of HIV.