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HIV prevention efforts should focus on European tourists

Migrants, travellers and tourists are both major sources and targets of HIV

20th May 2009: A team of scientists, mapping HIV’s ‘march’ around Europe by showing its spread via tourists, travellers and migrants, has suggested prevention efforts ought to be aimed at them.

Viruses move around with travellers. Thus, health programmes within countries should not only target the national populations, prevention efforts must also be aimed at migrants, travellers and tourists – who are both major sources and targets of HIV, it has been stated.

Available information suggests people travelling from and through Greece, Portugal, Serbia and Spain are shown to be actively exporting the HIV-1, subtype B, to other European nations.

For reaching the conclusions, an international team of scientists used samples from 17 European countries to construct a viral phylogeography, a geographic pattern of genetic information taken from viruses at a number of locations that can be used to track how and when it spread.

The results in the open access journal Retrovirology show no significant exporting migration was observed in case of Austria, Poland and Luxembourg, whereas Greece, Portugal, Serbia and Spain were a source of subtype B to other countries.

Other countries had narrower targets, with Italy exporting HIV to Austria, and Portugal passing the virus primarily to Luxembourg.

Other nations such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg showed only limited export of HIV-1 subtype B, while for Italy, Israel, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, the authors inferred significant bidirectional migration. For Poland no significant migration was found.

Author Dimitrios Paraskevis said: "Popular tourist destinations like Greece, Portugal and Spain probably spread HIV with tourists infected during their holidays. To a large extent, HIV spread within Poland is due to injecting drug users, who make up around half of the HIV-infected population.

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