Holiday hotspots 'driving spread of HIV'

Sun, sea and sex holiday destinations have been a major driving force behind the spread of HIV in Europe, a study suggests.

Greece and Spain are two of the most wide ranging HIV exporters, according to a new map following the march of the Aids virus.

HIV was tracked from both holiday hotspots to seven and five countries respectively.

Portugal, Serbia and Holland also played an important role in the widespread migration of HIV.

Other countries – mostly those without popular seaside resorts – had narrower avenues of infection transmission.

Austria, Poland and Luxembourg made no significant contribution to HIV spread, but imported the virus from other countries.

Italy exported infections primarily to Austria while Portugal’s main target was Luxembourg. Around 13% of Luxembourg’s population is Portuguese.

Although Holland does not attract seaside revellers, Amsterdam is a top sex tourism destination.

The map was constructed from genetic information taken from viruses sampled from 16 European countries plus Israel.

Researchers focused on the HIV-1 subtype B virus, the most prevalent form of HIV circulating in Europe.

Britain, Italy, Israel, Norway, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland are named as both a significant exporter and importer of the virus.

Dr Dimitrios Paraskevis, from the University of Athens, who led the study reported in the journal Retrovirology, said: “Popular tourist destinations like Greece, Portugal and Spain probably spread HIV with tourists infected during their holidays.

“To a large extent HIV spread within Poland is due to injecting drug users, who make up around half of the HIV-infected population.

“Viruses move around with travellers – thus health programmes within countries should not only target the national populations, prevention efforts must also be aimed at migrants, travellers and tourists, who are both major sources and targets of HIV.”

Lisa Power, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust charity, said: “This doesn’t come as any surprise. We’ve known for some time with high levels of mobility in the world these days that it’s very easy for viruses to move around.

“What it tells us is that you can’t limit HIV prevention and support just to permanent residents.

“We would say it’s a good idea to pack your condoms when you go on holiday. People wouldn’t dream of forgetting their suncream, but they don’t think about safe sex the same way.”

She said the rapid spread of HIV among UK injecting drug users was halted in the 1980s by the introduction of needle exchange schemes and effective harm reduction policies.

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