Transmission Clustering Among Newly Diagnosed HIV Patients in Chicago, 2008 to 2011: Using Phylogenetics to Expand Knowledge of Regional HIV Transmission Patterns

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HIV transmission cluster analyses can inform HIV prevention efforts. We describe the first such assessment for transmission clustering among HIV patients in Chicago.


We performed transmission cluster analyses using HIV pol sequences from newly diagnosed patients presenting to Chicago's largest HIV clinic between 2008 and 2011. We compared sequences through progressive pairwise alignment, using neighbor joining to construct an unrooted phylogenetic tree. We defined clusters as >2 sequences among which each sequence had at least 1 partner within a genetic distance of ≤1.5%. We used multivariable regression to examine factors associated with clustering and used geospatial analysis to assess geographic proximity of phylogenetically clustered patients.


We compared sequences from 920 patients, median age of 35 years, 75% male, 67% black, 23% Hispanic, and 8% had a rapid plasma reagin titer ≥1:16 concurrent with their HIV diagnosis. We had HIV transmission risk data for 54%; 43% identified as men who have sex with men (MSM). Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated 123 patients (13%) grouped into 26 clusters, the largest having 20 members. In multivariable regression, age <25, black race, MSM status, male gender, higher HIV viral load, and rapid plasma reagin ≥1:16 associated with clustering. We did not observe geographic grouping of genetically clustered patients.


Our results demonstrate high rates of HIV transmission clustering, without local geographic foci, among young black MSM in Chicago. Applied prospectively, phylogenetic analyses could guide prevention efforts and help break the cycle of transmission.

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