An international team of researchers has found that rates of HIV have increased in Pakistan's general population, as the virus has spread beyond at-risk groups to women and their children.
The researchers raise concern that the transmission across subgroups into Pakistan's general population may serve as indication that the virus may be spreading into populations within neighbouring Afghanistan.
The technique used to understand the forces that drive the HIV epidemic in Pakistan could also help health care professionals understand and intervene in other deadly disease outbreaks wherever they occur, says the study, led by scientists at Aga Khan University and Dow University of Health Sciences, both in Karachi.
"Are the strains in Pakistan and Afghanistan of two different epidemic origins, or are they the same? It's an important question," said study's author Marco Salemi, a UF College of Medicine professor.
"Genetic evidence can be used to test how different populations are intersecting. As you can imagine, behavioural data is difficult to get in some countries and this is why molecular tools are important," he stated.
Salemi analysed DNA sequences of blood samples from three HIV-positive groups: intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men, and women who have become infected by their bisexual spouses.
By examining the evolutionary makeup of HIV strains, scientists say one of the strongest factors of the disease's spread is through men who sleep with male intravenous drug users.
The findings were published in July in the journal PLoS One.