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To assess temporary expatriation as a risk factor for HIV infection in a rural area of Senegal and to examine the transmission of HIV from expatriates to their families.Cross-sectional study in identified expatriates and in a representative cluster sample of the general population from the same geographical area in northern Senegal.In 1989, a survey (including questionnaire and serological tests for HIV-1 and HIV-2) was conducted in all expatriates currently living in 11 villages in northern Senegal and spouses of all expatriates (present or not) from this area (‘expatriate’ group, n = 258). In parallel, a cluster sample of 600 adults was drawn from eight villages of the same area, of whom 414 were selected as the control group since they and their spouses had not travelled outside Senegal in the last 10 years.In the ‘expatriate’ group, sera from 39 subjects were confirmed as HIV-positive by Western blot [17 out of 63 men (27.0%) and 22 out of 195 women (11.3%)]. Of these subjects, 33 were infected by HIV-1, four by HIV-2 and two had a dual HIV-1/2 profile. In contrast, only two subjects (one man and one woman) from the control group were infected by HIV-2 and none by HIV-1. In men, HIV-1 seroprevalence was associated with age <40 years [odds ratio (OR), 7.4; P = 0.03] and previous sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms (OR, 13.5; P = 0.03), whereas the risk factors in women were age <25 years (OR, 3.7; P = 0.04), being a widow (OR, 30.4; P < 0.01) and presence of sexual activity over the last 2 years (OR, 21.3; P < 0.01).Penetration of HIV-1 infection in a country where HIV-2 is endemic shows-that the HIV-1 epidemic is currently spreading to rural West Africa. Migrant workers appear to play a major role in this epidemic.