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Study Reveals Impact of Geopolitics upon Spread of HIV in Europe and America

According to Oxford on June 15, an international team including researchers of the university found that geopolitics had major impact on HIV spread from the U.S. in 1970s to Europe.

HIV includes HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV infections in most countries are HIV-1, and 90% of HIV-1 cases progress to AIDS in 10-12 years.

According to the new research, published in the Journal of Molecular Epidemiology and Evolutionary Genetics of Infectious Diseases, in the early stage of major HIV spread, most cases in Europe and America were resulted from HIV-1 strains, but no studies thoroughly examined the spread of HIV to Europe following its spread from Africa to the U.S. via Haiti.

The study team led by researchers from Oxford and University of Athens Greece analyzed the HIV-1 subtype B virus gene sequence samples obtained from Europe, in order to reveal the routes and patterns of their spread in the past years. They found that, in the early stage of the spread of strains of the subtype, North America was most affected and the major source area of HIV transmission, while the next stop for the HIV transmission was Europe.

The major study finds that HIV travelled from the US to Western Europe on a number of occasions, whereas Central and Eastern Europe remained isolated for the most part of the early epidemic. Correspondingly, in the period the US saw limited trades, travels and immigration with Central and Eastern Europe due to the Cold War and other geopolitical events, while the interactions with Western Europe remained active.

Within Europe, the strains of HIV found in the east and west remained clearly segregated until the 1990s - a pattern mirroring the division of Europe during the Cold War era and its reintegration following the end of Cold War. "These distinct strains in eastern and western Europe were able to connect again in the 1990s once movement became less curtailed," co-lead author Dimitrios Paraskevis, from the Department of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Medical Statistics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, said.

According to the study team, this study shows how important it is that policies to prevent the spread of infections are set up on a global scale, and that we understand how – much like in economics - an epidemic in an influential country is likely to have an effect in almost every other part of the world.

"Viral dynamics are influenced by host ecology, and human ecology is defined by geopolitics," co-lead author Gkikas Magiorkinis, at Oxford University in Britain, said. "A country's influence is strongly linked to its role in spreading the virus - HIV simply followed the natural cultural flows of the second half of the 20th century, moving from North America to Europe," the research said. (Source: Xinhua News Agency, June 24, 2016)