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Unsafe sex common among female drug users with HIV

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Many women in the United States who are injection drug users and are also infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, do not routinely use condoms with their uninfected regular partners or with casual sex partners, according to researchers in the U.S. and South Africa

"Forty percent of the HIV-positive women in our sample were having sex with at-risk male partners, and more than half of the time, condoms were not used consistently," lead investigator Dr. Mary H. Latka told Reuters Health.

Latka of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban and colleagues conducted a study with 426 women who were HIV-positive injection drug users living in Baltimore, Miami, New York or San Francisco. The study findings are reported in the June issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Among the 370 sexually active women, 144 had sex with a steady partner and 148 had sex with casual partners who were either uninfected or their HIV status was unknown. A number of women also had sex with steady and casual partners. Overall, 60 percent of the women inconsistently used condoms with their regular partner and with 53 percent of their casual partners.

However, continued Latka "men who were aware that their close female partner was HIV-positive were much more likely to use a condom."

Therefore, couples with one HIV-infected and one uninfected member, health care professionals might try to work with both individuals to encourage them to talk about their HIV status, which may help increase the use of condoms, she said.

In addition, the team found that inconsistent condom use was associated with greater drug and alcohol use during sex, negative beliefs about condoms and a lower sense of personal responsibility to protect others.

"HIV-positive women," continued Latka, "may need structural interventions such as better access to drug treatment."

"Curbing illicit drug use," she concluded, "would not only benefit HIV-positive women, it may also play an important role in reducing the continued spread of HIV from infected women to others."

SOURCE: Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, June 2006.