Yunnan has been described as a “key HIV epicenter in China” . By the end of 2010, the cumulative number of HIV/AIDS cases reported in Yunnan was 83,925 and accounted for 21% of total HIV/AIDS cases in China. With the scale up of ART in Yunnan, the emergence of HIV DR is anticipated. The surveillance of emergence and transmission of drug resistant HIV-1 strains is one of the priorities for HIV/AIDS prevention and control in Yunnan. In particular, surveying the characteristics and trends of TDR among newly reported cases of HIV infection could provide valuable information for evaluating the efficacy of ART, public health planning , and the selection of pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis.
By using a standard genotyping protocol, we carried out a survey of TDR in 299 newly HIV-1 diagnosed and ART-naive individuals residing in Dehong. Our study revealed a low TDR rate of 4.3%. An earlier study conducted in 2006 of 64 newly infected HIV-1 patients whose infections were classified to be recent by BED incidence assay yielded a rate of 6.3% . No statistical difference between the rates of these 2 studies (p>0.05) was found. This indicates that the prevalence of drug resistant HIV-1 strains remained relatively constant over the 5 years between 2006 and 2010, and that the management of treated individuals with standardized ART protocol appeared to be efficient in western Yunnan. In this study, we also found one DR strain among 10 Burmese individuals. Further vigilance needs to be placed to monitor the importation of DR strains from neighboring countries.
The first-line regimens of the Chinese national free ART program include 2 NRTIs and 1 NNRTI. The ART drugs presently used in Dehong include 6 NRTIs (abacavir (ABC), zidovudine (AZT), stavudine (D4T), didanosine (DDI), tenofovir (TDF) and 3TC, two NNRTIs (EFV and NVP), and two PIs (LPV and IDV). A total of 69.2% of drug resistant strains found in this study were RTI-associated. These DR mutations (M184I, K103N/S, Y181C and K101E) could derive from ART-treated patients in Yunnan . Further, intermediate and high-level resistance to four NNRTIs was detected with increased frequency. The increased rates of RTI relevant resistance strains could increase the failure of the first-line antiretroviral regimens. The use of PIs is limited and PI-related DR mutations were not previously found among the treated population in 2008 in Yunnan . Five PI-related DR strains were detected in this study. A possible explanation for the presence of DR to PIs different from the ones used in Dehong (LPV and IDV) is that the individuals were administering self-procured PIs from overseas or the observed mutations were introduced by foreigners.
In this study, we found that most subtypes/CRFs were present in both the heterosexually transmitted population and IDUs. This finding suggests that various HIV-1 subtypes/CRFs were disseminating between different high-risk populations via complicated transmission routes and/or introduced by bridging populations such as female sex workers. Extensive BC recombinants were previously detected among IDUs in Dehong [9, 10, 12]. In this work, we found increased intersubtype recombinants in IDUs and the heterosexually transmitted population. In addition to BC recombinants, CRF01_AE and subtype C or BC recombinants were also identified for the first time in this area. Recently, extensive and complex HIV-1 recombination events between B', C and CRF01_AE were found in the neighboring northern Myanmar area . Thus, the China-Myanmar border area appears to be a hot spot of active viral recombinant events. In order to effectively control the HIV epidemic in this area, comprehensive strategies including risk behavior interventions, enhanced HIV testing and proper use of ART should be emphasized.
As a linkage between the HIV-1 epidemics in Southeast Asia and China, Dehong converges many HIV-1 strains circulating in this area [8, 13, 26, 27]. Dehong was also affected by the epidemic in other parts of China. For example, CRF07_BC and CRF08_BC were first detected from IDUs in Xinjiang province and Guangxi province in 1997, respectively [28, 29]. However, it is believed that these two CRFs were initially formed in Yunnan Province  and spread through two different overland heroin trafficking routes. CRF07_BC spread northwestward to Xinjiang, and CRF08_BC eastward to Guangxi. As reported previously, these 2 CRFs were not identified in western Yunnan until 2002 [9, 10, 12] but were predominant in eastern Yunnan prior to 2002, including Honghe and Wenshan prefectures . Thus, it is likely that these 2 CRFs might have formed in eastern Yunnan and spread to western Yunnan. Furthermore, the epidemic could potentially influence neighboring countries if infected individuals and drug trafficking are not monitored and managed efficiently.