Objective: HIV in Central America is concentrated among certain groups such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers (FSWs). We compared social recruitment chains and HIV transmission clusters from 699 MSM and 787 FSWs to better understand factors contributing to ongoing HIV transmission in El Salvador.
Methods: Phylogenies were reconstructed using pol sequences from 119 HIV-positive individuals recruited by respondent-driven sampling (RDS) and compared with RDS chains in 3 cities in El Salvador. Transmission clusters with a mean pairwise genetic distance ≤0.015 and Bayesian posterior probabilities =1 were identified. Factors associated with cluster membership were evaluated among MSM.
Results: Sequences from 34 (43%) MSM and 4 (10%) FSW grouped in 14 transmission clusters. Clusters were defined by risk group (12 MSM clusters) and geographic residence (only 1 spanned separate cities). In 4 MSM clusters (all n = 2), individuals were also members of the same RDS chain, but only 2 had members directly linked through recruitment. All large clusters (n ≥ 3) spanned >1 RDS chain. Among MSM, factors independently associated with cluster membership included recent infection by BED assay (P = 0.02), sex with stable male partners (P = 0.02), and sex with ≥3 male partners in the past year (P = 0.04).
Conclusions: We found few HIV transmissions corresponding directly with the social recruitment. However, we identified clustering in nearly one-half of MSM suggesting that RDS recruitment was indirectly but successfully uncovering transmission networks, particularly among recent infections. Interrogating RDS chains with phylogenetic analyses may help refine methods for identifying transmission clusters.