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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Effect of variable transmission rate on the dynamics of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa

Diego F Cuadros*, Philip H Crowley, Ben Augustine, Sarah L Stewart and Gisela García-Ramos

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:216  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-216

Published: 11 August 2011

Abstract

Background

The cause of the high HIV prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa is incompletely understood, with heterosexual penile-vaginal transmission proposed as the main mechanism. Heterosexual HIV transmission has been estimated to have a very low probability; but effects of cofactors that vary in space and time may substantially alter this pattern.

Methods

To test the effect of individual variation in the HIV infectiousness generated by co-infection, we developed and analyzed a mathematical sexual network model that simulates the behavioral components of a population from Malawi, as well as the dynamics of HIV and the co-infection effect caused by other infectious diseases, including herpes simplex virus type-2, gonorrhea, syphilis and malaria.

Results

The analysis shows that without the amplification effect caused by co-infection, no epidemic is generated, and HIV prevalence decreases to extinction. But the model indicates that an epidemic can be generated by the amplification effect on HIV transmission caused by co-infection.

Conclusion

The simulated sexual network demonstrated that a single value for HIV infectivity fails to describe the dynamics of the epidemic. Regardless of the low probability of heterosexual transmission per sexual contact, the inclusion of individual variation generated by transient but repeated increases in HIV viral load associated with co-infections may provide a biological basis for the accelerated spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, our work raises the possibility that the natural history of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa cannot be fully understood if individual variation in infectiousness is neglected.