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To study the distribution of HIV-1 subtypes in France and to describe the characteristics of patients infected with non-B subtypes.All adults who tested HIV-1 positive on Western blot for the first time in one of the participating laboratories between September 1996 and March 1998 were eligible, whether or not they had been diagnosed previously elsewhere. Data on age, sex, country of birth, HIV-transmission group, dates of the last negative and first positive HIV test and clinical stage were collected. Serotyping was performed with a peptide subtype-specific enzyme immunoassay on each plasma sample and genotyping with heteroduplex mobility assay on each non-B serotype-infected patient. Patients characteristics were compared in B and non-B subtypes.Of the 2168 HIV-positive patients included by 32 laboratories, subtype results were available for 2042. Among those, 73.4% were men, 12.2% born in sub-Saharan Africa, 41.5% infected through heterosexual contact and 67.6% in CDC stage A. Among the 2042 patients, 1725 (84.5%) were infected with B subtype. Among the 317 non-B subtypes, subtype A was predominant (66.9%); all other subtypes (C, D, E, F, G, H, O) were present. Factors independently associated with a non-B subtype were to be included in the Paris area [adjusted odds ratio (aOR), 1.6; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.1–2.3], to be born in sub-Saharan Africa (aOR, 26.0; 95% CI, 17.5–37.8) and to be infected through heterosexual contact (aOR, 4.2; 95% CI, 2.8–6.4).In France, although B subtype is still predominant, all non-B subtypes are now present. The diversity of HIV strains may affect diagnostic tests and clinical practice, especially viral load measurements. Moreover, the decreased susceptibility of non-B subtypes to antiretroviral drugs emphasizes the importance of surveillance of HIV diversity.