The Venezuelan Amerindians were, until recently, free of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. However, in 2007, HIV-1 infection was detected for the first time in the Warao Amerindian population living in the Eastern part of Venezuela, in the delta of the Orinoco river. The aim of this study was to analyze the genetic diversity of the HIV-1 circulating in this population.
The pol genomic region was sequenced for 16 HIV-1 isolates and for some of them, sequences from env, vif and nef genomic regions were obtained. All HIV-1 isolates were classified as subtype B, with exception of one that was classified as subtype C. The 15 subtype B isolates exhibited a high degree of genetic similarity and formed a highly supported monophyletic cluster in each genomic region analyzed. Evolutionary analyses of the pol genomic region indicated that the date of the most recent common ancestor of the Waraos subtype B clade dates back to the late 1990s.
At least two independent introductions of HIV-1 have occurred in the Warao Amerindians from Venezuela. The HIV-1 subtype B was successfully established and got disseminated in the community, while no evidence of local dissemination of the HIV-1 subtype C was detected in this study. These results warrant further surveys to evaluate the burden of this disease, which can be particularly devastating in this Amerindian population, with a high prevalence of tuberculosis, hepatitis B, among other infectious diseases, and with limited access to primary health care.