Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Evolutionary theory hypothesizes that intermediate virulence maximizes pathogen fitness as a result of a trade-off between virulence and transmission, but empirical evidence remains scarce. We bridge this gap using data from a large and long-standing HIV-1 prospective cohort, in Uganda. We use an epidemiological-evolutionary model parameterised with this data to derive evolutionary predictions based on analysis and detailed individual-based simulations. We robustly predict stabilising selection towards a low level of virulence, and rapid attenuation of the virus. Accordingly, set-point viral load, the most common measure of virulence, has declined in the last 20 years. Our model also predicts that subtype A is slowly outcompeting subtype D, with both subtypes becoming less virulent, as observed in the data. Reduction of set-point viral loads should have resulted in a 20% reduction in incidence, and a three years extension of untreated asymptomatic infection, increasing opportunities for timely treatment of infected individuals.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


Humans, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viral Load, Models, Biological, Uganda, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Genetic Fitness, Biological Evolution