The Human Immunodeficiency Virus Endemic: Maintaining Disease Transmission in At-Risk Urban Areas

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Abstract

Objectives

A study of network relationships, geographic contiguity, and risk behavior was designed to test the hypothesis that all 3 are required to maintain endemicity of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in at-risk urban communities. Specifically, a highly interactive network, close geographic proximity, and compound risk (multiple high-risk activities with multiple partners) would be required.

Methods

We enrolled 927 participants from two contiguous geographic areas in Atlanta, GA: a higher-risk area and lower-risk area, as measured by history of HIV reporting. We began by enrolling 30 “seeds” (15 in each area) who were comparable in their demographic and behavioral characteristics, and constructed 30 networks using a chain-link design. We assessed each individual's geographic range; measured the network characteristics of those in the higher and lower-risk areas; and measured compound risk as the presence of two or more (of 6) major risks for HIV.

Results

Among participants in the higher-risk area, the frequency of compound risk was 15%, compared with 5% in the lower-risk area. Geographic cohesion in the higher-risk group was substantially higher than that in the lower-risk group, based on comparison of geographic distance and social distance, and on the extent of overlap of personal geographic range. The networks in the 2 areas were similar: both areas show highly interactive networks with similar degree distributions, and most measures of network attributes were virtually the same.

Conclusions

Our original hypothesis was supported in part. The higher and lower-risk groups differed appreciably with regard to risk and geographic cohesion, but were substantially the same with regard to network properties. These results suggest that a “minimum” network configuration may be required for maintenance of endemic transmission, but a particular prevalence level may be determined by factors related to risk, geography, and possibly other factors.

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