HIV-1 genetic diversity and demographic characteristics in Bulgaria

Erik Billings, Richard A. Heipertz, Tonka Varleva, Eric Sanders-Buell, Anne Marie O'Sullivan, Meera Bose, Shana Howell, Gustavo H. Kijak, Hristo Taskov, Ivailo Elenkov, Marina Nenova, Nedialka Popivanova, Aimee Bolen Valenzuela, Otha Myles, Christian T. Bautista, Merlin L. Robb, Nelson L. Michael, Jerome H. Kim, Paul T. Scott, Sodsai TovanabutraJulie A. Ake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


HIV-1 strain diversity in Bulgaria is extensive and includes contributions from nearly all major subtypes and the Circulating Recombinant Forms (CRF): 01_AE, 02_AG, and 05_DF. Prior to this study, HIV-1 sequence information from Bulgaria has been based solely on the pro-RT gene, which represent less than 15% of the viral genome. To further characterize HIV-1 in Bulgaria, assess participant risk behaviors, and strengthen knowledge of circulating strains in the region, the study "Genetic Subtypes of HIV-1 in Bulgaria (RV240)" was conducted. This study employed the real time-PCR based Multi-region Hybridization Assay (MHA) B/non-B and HIV-1 sequencing to survey 215 of the approximately 1100 known HIV-1 infected Bulgarian adults (2008-2009) and determine if they were infected with subtype B HIV-1. The results indicated a subtype B prevalence of 40% and demonstrate the application of the MHA B/non-B in an area containing broad HIV-1 strain diversity. Within the assessed risk behaviors, the proportion of subtype B infection was greatest in men who have sex with men and lowest among those with drug use risk factors. During this study, 15 near full-length genomes and 22 envelope sequences were isolated from study participants. Phylogenetic analysis shows the presence of subtypes A1, B, C, F1, and G, CRF01_AE, CRF02_AG, CRF05_DF, and one unique recombinant form (URF). These sequences also show the presence of two strain groups containing participants with similar risk factors. Previous studies in African and Asian cohorts have shown that co-circulation of multiple subtypes can lead to viral recombination within super-infected individuals and the emergence of new URFs. The low prevalence of URFs in the presence of high subtype diversity in this study, may be the result of successful infection prevention and control programs. Continued epidemiological monitoring and support of infection prevention programs will help maintain control of the HIV-1 epidemic in Bulgaria.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0217063
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


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