Large cluster outbreaks sustain the HIV epidemic among MSM in Quebec

Bluma G. Brenner, Ruxandra Ilinca Ibanescu, Isabelle Hardy, David Stephens, Joanne Otis, Erica Moodie, Zehava Grossman, Anne Mieke Vandamme, Michel Roger, Mark A. Wainberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: HIV-1 epidemics among MSM remain unchecked despite advances in treatment and prevention paradigms. This study combined viral phylogenetic and behavioural risk data to better understand underlying factors governing the temporal growth of the HIV epidemic among MSM in Quebec (2002-2015). Methods: Phylogenetic analysis of pol sequences was used to deduce HIV-1 transmission dynamics (cluster size, size distribution and growth rate) in first genotypes of treatment-naïve MSM (2002-2015, n=3901). Low sequence diversity of first genotypes (0-0.44% mixed base calls) was used as an indication of early-stage infection. Behavioural risk data were obtained from the Montreal rapid testing site and primary HIV-1-infection cohorts. Results: Phylogenetic analyses uncovered high proportion of clustering of new MSM infections. Overall, 27, 45, 48, 53 and 57% of first genotypes within one (singleton, n=1359), 2-4 (n=692), 5-9 (n=367), 10-19 (n=405) and 20+ (n=1277) cluster size groups were early infections (<0.44% diversity). Thirty viruses within large 20+ clusters disproportionately fuelled the epidemic, representing 13, 25 and 42% of infections, first genotyped in 2004-2007 (n=1314), 2008-2011 (n=1356) and 2012-2015 (n=1033), respectively. Of note, 35, 21 and 14% of MSM belonging to 20+, 2-19 and one (singleton) cluster groups were under 30 years of age, respectively. Half of persons seen at the rapid testing site (2009-2011, n=1781) were untested in the prior year. Poor testing propensity was associated with fewer reported partnerships. Conclusion: Addressing the heterogeneity in transmission dynamics among HIV-1-infected MSM populations may help guide testing, treatment and prevention strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)p. 707-717
Number of pages11
VolumeVol. 31
Issue numbern.º 5
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2017


  • HIV-1 transmission
  • MSM
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Primary HIV-1 infection
  • Treatment as prevention

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