The Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute said Monday (June 4) that 12 men from a Mekong Delta rural hamlet who have HIV must have contracted the deadly virus through blood (from other infected persons).
The institute made the statement after the men's wives tested negative.
Phu Dang Hamlet in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre attracted public attention after local media ran stories about the 12 male residents, aged from 20 to 62, were all found carrying the virus.
The case came to light when Nguyen Van Chien went to a hospital in HCMC for kidney treatment on January 31, the Tien Phong newspaper reported.
Chien was surprised when he was told he had tested positive for HIV. After returning home, Chien assumed that he had contracted the virus after receiving injections from Do Van Be, a retired nurse who runs an unlicensed medical clinic at his house in the Phu Dang Hamlet.
He informed other villagers of the news and they went to hospitals in HCMC and Ben Tre Province to have their blood tested.
Eleven other men tested positive for the virus, six of them from one family Huynh Van Hong, his two sons, two nephews and a cousin.
Ben Tre Province's AIDS Prevention Center then conducted tests on 31 villagers in the hamlet, and the results once again confirmed that the 12 men had HIV.
The men insisted that they did not use drugs or have sex with prostitutes, and blamed Be for using the same injection needle on them, but the retired nurse has denied the charge, saying he uses disposable syringes. He has also pointed out that his patients include women and children who have not tested positive for the virus.
The provincial Health Department invited doctors from the HCMC Pasteur Institute to the hamlet to find the exact cause. They found that the wives of 11 men (one of the 12 men is not yet married) tested negative for HIV.
Dr. Tran Ngoc Huu, head of the institute, said some of the patients have developed symptoms of AIDS, which means they have most likely had the HIV virus for at least five years.
He said the institute would be "very cautious" in determining the cause of HIV contraction in this case since it involved the patients, their families and the community as a whole.