Prevalence and origin of HIV-1 group M subtypes among patients attending a Belgian hospital in 1999.


HIV-1 group M strains are usually subtyped based on gag and/or env gene sequences. In our lab, part of the pol gene sequence was available in order to determine the genotypic anti-HIV drug resistance profile. To estimate the prevalence of the different HIV-1 subtypes in patients visiting the University Hospitals in Leuven in 1999 and for whom a genotypic drug resistance test was needed, we tried to use the pol sequence for subtyping. Recombination was investigated by similarity plots and bootscanning and subtyping was performed by phylogenetic analysis. The overall region spanning the entire protease and 747 nucleotides of the reverse transcriptase proved very suitable for subtyping, although there was a low phylogenetic signal at the beginning of the reverse transcriptase (nucleotides 0-250), as we demonstrated by likelihood mapping. Of the 41 samples analyzed, 21 belonged to subtype B. Of the other 20 non-B strains, 9 belonged to subtype C, 2 to subtype D and 1 to subtype A, G, H and J, respectively, 3 were CRF_02 (Circulating Recombinant Form), 1 was recombinant with a novel breakpoint and 1 sample was untypable. Although subtype B is still the most prevalent subtype in Belgium, it seems to be responsible for only half of the infections in this study. We could also document that the prevalence of subtype C is high in the Belgian native patients, especially among the heterosexually infected population. This could possibly be an indication for an epidemic spread of HIV-1 subtype C in Belgium, as for one third of these patients, no link to an endemic region could be found. The other non-B subtypes and the recombinants are mainly introduced by immigrants or by Belgian citizens traveling abroad.




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