This study aimed to investigate the potential influence of venue-based networks on HCV transmission in HIV-positive gay and bisexual men (GBM).
This was a prospectively recruited cohort of HIV-infected GBM with recently-acquired HCV infection resident in Melbourne and Sydney. Clinical and demographic data were collected together with blood samples for HCV sequencing. Phylogenies were inferred and clusters of individuals infected with HCV with genetic sequence homology were identified. Venues used for sourcing sexual partners were identified; sourcing partners from the same venue was considered a potential social link. Using the Jaccard similarity coefficient, associations were identified between the network of sites where men sourced sex partners and transmission relationships as defined by phylogenetic clustering.
Forty individuals were recruited, of whom 62.5% were considered to have sexually- and 37.5% IDU-acquired HCV. Venue use was consistent with men being members of a more sexually adventurous gay community subculture. Six phylogenetically-determined pairs or clusters were identified, comprising fifteen (15/28, 53.6%) individuals. Participants belonging to phylogenetic clusters were observed within the same networks. There was a significant correlation between the network and phylogenetic clustering when both cities were considered simultaneously (p = 0.005), raising the possibility that social connections may be important for HCV transmissions.
Venue-based network elicitation is a promising approach for elucidating HCV transmissions amongst HIV-infected GBM. Public health approaches targeting individuals and venues prominent within networks may reduce onward HCV transmission.