Objective: Early studies in Cape Town identified independent HIV-1 epidemics, with distinct viral subtypes, among men who have sex with men (MSM) and the heterosexual population. However, few recent HIV-1 subtype data are available for MSM in South Africa. We examined HIV-1 subtypes among MSM in Cape Town.
Design: Cross-sectional survey.
Methods: Self-identified MSM were recruited from geographically and racially disparate communities across Cape Town. Participants completed behavioral questionnaires and underwent HIV testing. Virus isolated from infected participants underwent complete env gp160 sequencing, and HIV-1 subtypes were assigned through phylogenetic analysis.
Results: In total, 194 HIV-infected MSM were enrolled: 67% black African, 24% colored, and 9% white men. More black African men identified as bisexual or heterosexual compared with other races. Overall, 31%–66% of men reported a recent partner of another race. HIV-1 subtypes were confirmed for 143 participants: 81% were subtype C, 14% B, 1% A1, 1% F2, and 3 recombinant viruses. Subtype C virus was associated with black African race (P = 0.003 compared with colored; P < 0.001 compared with white), men who identified as bisexual/heterosexual (P = 0.01), and reported a female sexual partner in the last year (P = 0.02). Compared with previous studies, an increasing prevalence of subtype C virus was noted among white MSM.
Conclusions: This molecular epidemiology study provides novel evidence of sexual network links between the heterosexual and MSM epidemics and between historically racially disparate communities. These findings provide insights into the drivers of HIV epidemics in different population groups and may have implications for prevention strategies.