European tourism 'spreads HIV'22nd May 2009
Researchers have warned that tourism is playing a key role in the spread of HIV across Europe.
An international team of scientists tracked the movement of the virus around the continent, analysing samples from 17 European countries.
According to a map they built from the findings and published in the journal Retrovirology, tourist destinations like Greece, Spain and Portugal are the biggest exporters of the virus.
Many tourists who return from those countries, and also from Serbia, take HIV with them, as do migrant workers.
The UK both imports and exports HIV, as does Israel, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, the study found.
Meanwhile, less obvious holiday destinations like Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg appear to get most of their HIV infections from outside their borders.
HIV infection patterns in Poland are mostly confined to the country, spread largely among injecting drug users.
The researchers constructed their map by tracking the most common type of European HIV.
Known as HIV-1 subtype B, the virus has evolved over time, and researchers were able to track its development through a detailed genetic 'family tree'.
This tree was then used to track migration patterns within Europe.
According to lead author Dimitrios Paraskevis of the University of Athens, popular tourist destinations like Greece, Portugal and Spain probably spread HIV through tourists who become infected during their holidays there.
But he said the Serbian exports of HIV were more likely to be linked to migrants who travel to live and work in other countries.
But he added that Serbia did not rank highly in the overall table of HIV-exporting countries.
Countries that both exported and imported HIV were larger net exporters than Serbia, he added.
Paraskevis said viruses tended to move around with travellers, which meant that health policy should target migrants, travellers and tourists for prevention and education work, as they were both major sources and potential targets of HIV.
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