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HIV-1 non-B infections have been increasing in Europe for several years. In Germany, subtype A belongs to the most abundant non-B subtypes showing an increasing prevalence of 8.3% among new infections in 2016. Here we trace the origin and examine the current spread of the German HIV-1 subtype A epidemic. Bayesian coalescence and birth-death analyses were performed with 180 German HIV-1 pol sequences and 528 related and publicly available sequences to reconstruct the population dynamics and fluctuations for each of the transmission groups. Our reconstructions indicate two distinct sources of the German subtype A epidemic, with an Eastern European and an Eastern African lineage both cocirculating in the country. A total of 13 German-origin clusters were identified; among these, 6 clusters showed recent activity. Introductions leading to further countrywide spread originated predominantly from Eastern Africa when introduced before 2005. Since 2005, however, spreading introductions have occurred exclusively within the Eastern European clade. Moreover, we observed changes in the main route of subtype A transmission. The beginning of the German epidemic (1985 to 1995) was dominated by heterosexual transmission of the Eastern African lineage. Since 2005, transmissions among German men who have sex with men (MSM) have been increasing and have been associated with the Eastern European lineage. Infections among people who inject drugs dominated between 1998 and 2005. Our findings on HIV-1 subtype A infections provide new insights into the spread of this virus and extend the understanding of the HIV epidemic in Germany.IMPORTANCE HIV-1 subtype A is the second most prevalent subtype worldwide, with a high prevalence in Eastern Africa and Eastern Europe. However, an increase of non-B infections, including subtype A infections, has been observed in Germany and other European countries. There has simultaneously been an increased flow of refugees into Europe and especially into Germany, raising the question of whether the surge in non-B infections resulted from this increased immigration or whether German transmission chains are mainly involved. This study is the first comprehensive subtype A study from a western European country analyzing in detail its phylogenetic origin, the impact of various transmission routes, and its current spread. The results and conclusions presented provide new and substantial insights for virologists, epidemiologists, and the general public health sector. In this regard, they should be useful to those authorities responsible for developing public health intervention strategies to combat the further spread of HIV/AIDS.

Original publication




Journal article


J Virol

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Germany, HIV-1, phylogeography, reproduction numbers, risk groups, spread, subtype A, transmission cluster