Poverty Most Important Factor for HIV Epidemic Among Heterosexuals

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Poverty, even more so than race, is an important factor in whether inner-city heterosexuals are infected with the AIDS virus, according to a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and presented at the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna.

The study involved a survey in 2006 and 2007 of 9,000 heterosexual adults, aged 18 to 50, living in high-poverty neighborhoods in 23 US cities. Anyone using intravenous drugs was excluded from the survey. The study also did not include gay or bisexual men.

The results suggest that poor heterosexuals in poverty-stricken urban neighborhoods are twice as likely to be infected as those living in the same community but with more money. HIV was detected in 2.4% (1 in 42) of the people living below the federal poverty line, which in 2007 was an annual income of about $10,00 or less for an individual. For those above the poverty level, infection was found in only 1.2% of people (living in the same neighborhood).

Both rates were higher than the national average, which is 0.45%, or 1 in 222 people.

Read: Treating Poverty Related Infections

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Those living in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be infected because they live among more people who are infected or at a higher risk due to factors such as illiegal drug use, said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the CDC

The CDC report is the first of its kind in the US. "In the United States, we haven't had a history of looking in depth at the association between poverty and HIV," said Mermin. More often, studies have focused on the race of HIV patients, their sexual orientation, or whether or not they use intravenous drugs.

For example, statistics indicate that the HIV infection rate is eight times higher in blacks than whites and three times higher in Hispanics than whites. Because there is no clear biological reason for this, poverty may help better explain why rates are higher.

Read: Cost of HIV/AIDS Highlights Racial and Ethnic Disparities

"In this country, HIV clearly strikes the economically disadvantaged in a devastating way," said CDC HIV/AIDS expert Kevin Fenton. More than 1.1 million people in the US are infected with HIV and there are about 56,000 new infections each year.

More from the International AIDS Conference in Vienna:
Earlier Antiretroviral Therapy Cuts HIV Patients Risk of Death

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