[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) subtype C viruses are associated with nearly half of worldwide HIV-1 infections and are most predominant in India and the southern and eastern parts of Africa. Earlier reports from India identified the preponderance of subtype C and a small proportion of subtype A viruses. Subsequent reports identifying multiple subtypes suggest new introductions and/or their detection due to extended screening. The southern parts of India constitute emerging areas of the epidemic, but it is not known whether HIV-1 infection in these areas is associated with subtype C viruses or is due to the potential new introduction of non-subtype C viruses. Here, we describe the development of a specific and sensitive PCR-based strategy to identify subtype C-viruses (C-PCR). The strategy is based on amplifying a region encompassing a long terminal repeat and gag in the first round, followed by two sets of nested primers; one amplifies multiple subtypes, while the other is specific to subtype C. The common HIV and subtype C-specific fragments are distinguishable by length differences in agarose gels and by the difference in the numbers of NF-kappaB sites encoded in the subtype C-specific fragment. We implemented this method to screen 256 HIV-1-infected individuals from 35 towns and cities in four states in the south and a city in the east. With the exception of single samples of subtypes A and B and a B/C recombinant, we found all to be infected with subtype C viruses, and the subtype assignments were confirmed in a subset by using heteroduplex mobility assays and phylogenetic analysis of sequences. We propose the use of C-PCR to facilitate rapid molecular epidemiologic characterization to aid vaccine and therapeutic strategies.