Network structure and rapid HIV transmission among people who inject drugs: A simulation-based analysis.


As HIV incidence among people who inject drugs grows in the context of an escalating drug overdose epidemic in North America, investigating how network structure may affect vulnerability to rapid HIV transmission is necessary for preventing outbreaks. We compared the characteristics of the observed contact tracing network from the 2015 outbreak in rural Indiana with 1000 networks generated by an agent-based network model with approximately the same number of individuals (n = 420) and ties between them (n = 913). We introduced an initial HIV infection into the simulated networks and compared the subsequent epidemic behavior (e.g., cumulative HIV infections over 5 years). The model was able to produce networks with largely comparable characteristics and total numbers of incident HIV infections. Although the model was unable to produce networks with comparable cohesiveness (where the observed network had a transitivity value 35.7 standard deviations from the mean of the simulated networks), the structural variability of the simulated networks allowed for investigation into their potential facilitation of HIV transmission. These findings emphasize the need for continued development of injection network simulation studies in tandem with empirical data collection to further investigate how network characteristics played a role in this and future outbreaks.

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