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Theme A: Overview - Understanding risk and risk reduction for sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses

The overarching strategy of this theme is to use behavioural, clinical and molecular data to: profile transmission networks of STIs, BBVs and associated AMR/AVR; understand the characteristics that facilitate and sustain epidemics in sexual networks; and guide development of tailored, timely and effective interventions.. 

Our scientific strategy is underpinned by an increasing recognition that STI/BBV prevention should target sexual networks as well as individuals. In England, there is growing evidence of diversification in risk practices and greater overlap between sexual networks. Network analysis, modelling studies and outbreak investigations suggest overlapping networks may facilitate increased STI/BBV epidemics and the spread of AMR/AVR. We must better understand the characteristics of, and overlap between, sexual networks, and the underpinning behaviours that contribute to these networks, as well as the individual, socio-cultural and environmental influences on these, if we are to develop effective interventions to improve STI/BBV management and control.

Few studies have integrated detailed behavioural and clinical data with STI/BBV WGS molecular data to facilitate tailored prevention. We will use a multidisciplinary approach to explore:

1. the extent to which undisclosed and/or stigmatised risk behaviours facilitate outbreaks or sustain STI/BBV epidemics;
2. whether WGS can be harnessed to better characterise STI/BBV transmission networks, and the dynamics of associated AMR/AVR; and
3. how integrated behavioural, clinical and WGS data can facilitate tailored, risk-appropriate and effective interventions.

Lead researchers

Professor Catherine Mercer

Theme A Lead, Professor of Sexual Health Science

University College London

Professor Gwenda Hughes

Theme A Co-lead, Head of Blood Safety, Hepatitis, STIs & HIV Section

Public Health England