Because of the similar virological properties of HIV types 1 and 2, HIV-2 was assumed to be as infectious and capable of inducing AIDS as HIV-1. Seroepidemiological studies have shown significant rates of HIV-2 infection in West Africa, and surveys from other regions of the world indicate that the spread of HIV-2 infection continues. However the pathogenic potential of HIV-2 is considered to be lower than that of HIV-1. It is therefore important to understand the transmission properties of HIV-2 and its contribution to the AIDS pandemic. Since 1985,we have prospectively studied 1452 registered female prostitutes in Dakar, Senegal, with sequential evaluation of their antibody status to HIV-1 and HIV-2. During the study the overall incidence of HIV-1 and HIV-2 was the same (1·11 per 100 person-years of observation [pyo]). However, the annual incidence of HIV-1 increased substantially: there was a 1·4-fold increased risk per year and thus a 12-fold increase in risk over the entire study period. The incidence of HIV-2 remained stable, despite higher HIV-2 prevalence. In our population the heterosexual spread of HIV-2 is significantly slower than that of HIV-1, which strongly suggests differences in the viruses' infectivity potential.
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