The rate of HIV infection, the virus that causes AIDS, is higher among women than men entering prisons or jails, according to a new Johns Hopkins School of Public Health study.
The finding is somewhat surprising, said Dr. David Vlahov, the principal investigator, because other population-based studies in the United States have found that men are more likely to be infected than women.
Much of the higher rate of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus for female inmates probably reflects a history of intravenous drug use and prostitution, often necessary to support drug habits, Vlahov said.
Results the study's finding shows that there "needs to be a greater sensitivity and awareness of women's issues in prisons and to be cognizant of providing sufficient resources to take care of the emerging needs that are being identified," Vlahov said.
He headed a team that screened the blood samples of 10,994 men and women at 10 correctional institutions throughout the country. A total of 1,1914 of the samples were taken from women.
The blood was taken during routine entry medical exams over 11 months between June 7, 1988, and May 14, 1989, at five jails and five prisons. Of those, four were identified only as being in the mid-Atlantic area, three in the south Atlantic region and three in the Midwest-West.
Investigators for the Correctional Regional Infection Sentinel Surveillance Project found rates of HIV infection that ranged from 2.1 percent to 7.6 percent among men and 2.5 percent to 14.7 percent among women. The findings were published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The rates of HIV infection were higher for woman than for men in nine of the 10 correctional systems.
Women younger than 25 had an overall infection rate of 5.2 percent, significantly higher than men of the same age (2.3 percent), but similar to older women (5.3 percent) and older men (5.6 percent). Overall, HIV infection rates for non-whites (4.8 percent) were higher than those for whites (2.5 percent).
Five of the correctional systems were in states with high rates of acquired immune deficiency syndrome; three were in states of moderate rates of AIDS, and the remaining two were in states that have low rates of AIDS "to get a broader view" of HIV infection in prisons, Vlahov said.
Previous surveys concentrated on prison systems in Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Michigan, Maryland and New York. All but the last two states are areas of low rates of AIDS. In those 1986 and 1987 surveys, the HIV infection rate in Maryland was 7 percent and in New York, 17.4 percent.