BACKGROUND: It is estimated that approximately half of new HIV diagnoses among heterosexual migrants in Victoria, Australia, were acquired post-migration. We investigated the characteristics of phylogenetic clusters in notified cases of HIV among heterosexual migrants. METHODS: Partial HIV pol sequences obtained from routine clinical genotype tests were linked to Victorian HIV notifications with the following exposures listed on the notification form: heterosexual sexual contact, injecting drug use, bisexual sexual contact, male-to male sexual contact or heterosexual sexual contact in combination with injecting drug use, unknown exposure. Those with heterosexual sexual contact as the only exposure were the focus of this study, with the other exposures included to better understand transmission networks. Additional reference sequences were extracted from the Los Alamos database. Maximum likelihood methods were used to infer the phylogeny and the robustness of the resulting tree was assessed using bootstrap analysis. Phylogenetic clusters were defined on the basis of bootstrap and genetic distance. RESULTS: HIV pol sequences were available for 332 of 445 HIV notifications attributed to only heterosexual sexual contact in Victoria from 2005-2014. Forty-three phylogenetic clusters containing at least one heterosexual migrant were detected, 30 (70%) of which were pairs. The characteristics of these phylogenetic clusters varied considerably by cluster size. Pairs were more likely to be composed of people living with HIV from a single country of birth (p = 0.032). Larger clusters (n>/=3) were more likely to contain people born in Australian/New Zealand (p = 0.002), migrants from more than one country of birth (p = 0.013) and viral subtype-B, the most common subtype in Australia (p = 0.006). Pairs were significantly more likely to contain females (p = 0.037) and less likely to include HIV diagnoses with male-to-male sexual contact reported as a possible exposure (p<0.001) compared to larger clusters (n>/=3). CONCLUSION: Migrants appear to be at elevated risk of HIV acquisition, in part due to intimate relationships between migrants from the same country of origin, and in part due to risks associated with the broader Australian HIV epidemic. However, there was no evidence of large transmission clusters driven by heterosexual transmission between migrants. A multipronged approach to prevention of HIV among migrants is warranted.
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