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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Court Told Women, Accused Share Rare Strain of HIV

April 21, 1993
Toronto Globe and Mail (04/20/93), P. A5 (Hess, Henry)

Three HIV-positive women from London, Ontario, and the man who allegedly infected them, all share the same strain of HIV, which is seldom found in North America, according to a genetics expert who testified Monday in court. Dr. Michael Montpetit, head of the Canadian bureau of HIV/AIDS laboratories in Ottawa, said his tests back the allegation that the women contracted HIV from Charles Ssenyonga, who is being tried in the Ontario Court's General Division on charges of aggravated sexual assault and criminal negligence. Ssenyonga is accused of infecting the women through unprotected sexual intercourse after knowing he was infected with HIV. Montpetit testified that the four share a single strain of virus known as subtype A of HIV-1. "In a North American setting, that strain is extremely rare," said Montpetit. He added that it is a strain usually linked with Central African countries such as Uganda and Zaire. Ssenyonga moved from Uganda to Canada in 1983, even though the court has heard that he first tested positive for HIV in 1989. Dr. Montpetit, who took several hours to explain to the court the techniques used to compare the genetic makeup of HIV strains, rejected suggestions that the test results could be translated any other way. He acknowledged that he has not compared the samples to any other HIV-positive person in the London area, but said that it didn't matter. The chance of finding such a rare type of virus in the North American population "let alone specifically matching three viruses in three victims with a common partner--I do not known how to calculate them, but they would be astronomically low," he said.