A new study demonstrates that the spread of HIV in Greenland, where the number of cases has increased from 25 to 174 since the 1980s, has been more influenced by social and demographic factors than biological ones.
The one that counted
The first 25 were presumed to be isolated cases brought in from overseas, and a study by the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen has linked well over 75 percent of all subsequent cases to just one person.
By studying samples of those first cases, along with blood tests and the genetic sequences of the virus in 89 of the 149 subsequent cases, as well as carrying out interviews, the researchers have been able to map the spread and learn from its findings.
Contributing factors to the spread were travel from one country to another, migration from the villages to the cities, and movement between neighbourhoods of varying lifestyles.
Only gay in the village
In the case of the source of 72 of the 89 new cases, the researchers were able to pinpoint it to a small village, to which they established a Greenlandic man, who had contracted the virus through homosexual sex in Denmark, moved in the middle of the 1980s.
The virus, which was soon transmitted heterosexually, spread to other villages and then cities, where it mainly infected the poor and homeless – a similar trend to ones identified in the US, Europe and southern Africa.
Christian Bruhn, the head researcher, told the Videnskab.dk website it was important to understand how viruses spread from one group of people to another.
“In that way, we could help stop an epidemic before it gets started,” he said.