Research Article

The early spread and epidemic ignition of HIV-1 in human populations

Science  03 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6205, pp. 56-61
DOI: 10.1126/science.1256739

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The hidden history of the HIV pandemic

Rail and river transport in 1960s Congo, combined with the sexual revolution and changes in health care practices, primed the HIV pandemic. Faria et al. unpick the circumstances surrounding the ascendancy of HIV from its origins before 1920 in chimpanzee hunters in the Cameroon to amplification in Kinshasa. Around 1960, rail links promoted the spread of the virus to mining areas in southeastern Congo and beyond. Ultimately, HIV crossed the Atlantic in Haitian teachers returning home. From those early events, a pandemic was born.

Science, this issue p. 56


Thirty years after the discovery of HIV-1, the early transmission, dissemination, and establishment of the virus in human populations remain unclear. Using statistical approaches applied to HIV-1 sequence data from central Africa, we show that from the 1920s Kinshasa (in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo) was the focus of early transmission and the source of pre-1960 pandemic viruses elsewhere. Location and dating estimates were validated using the earliest HIV-1 archival sample, also from Kinshasa. The epidemic histories of HIV-1 group M and nonpandemic group O were similar until ~1960, after which group M underwent an epidemiological transition and outpaced regional population growth. Our results reconstruct the early dynamics of HIV-1 and emphasize the role of social changes and transport networks in the establishment of this virus in human populations.

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