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Study High Rate of AIDS Virus in Heterosexual Problem Drinkers

February 16, 1994

CHICAGO (AP) _ Heterosexual problem drinkers had a much higher rate of HIV infection than other heterosexuals, suggesting the need for AIDS prevention as part of alcohol abuse programs, a new study said.

Among 860 heterosexuals tested at five public alcohol treatment centers in San Francisco, 3 percent of men and 4 percent of women who had not injected drugs had HIV, researchers said Tuesday.

″These rates may not appear to be particularly high, but when one considers that the HIV prevalence among heterosexual men and women in general in San Francisco is only a small fraction of 1 percent, they are disturbing figures,″ said the lead researcher, Dr. Andrew L. Avins of the University of California, San Francisco.

″Interventions to prevent HIV spread should become a standard part of alcohol treatment programs,″ Avins’ team said in Wednesday’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers had several explanations for their results:

-Heterosexual alcohol abusers had more sex with drug abusers than other heterosexuals because they tend to live and congregate in the same places.

-Alcohol abuse is a trait of ″risk-taking personalities.″

-Alcohol may suppress the immune system and increase a person’s vulnerability to HIV. Research has yielded conflicting data on this issue.

″This is certainly alarming, but by itself it doesn’t mean we have a problem systematically,″ said Doug Longshore, principal investigator at the Drug Abuse Research Center of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. He was not involved in the study.

The study needs to be backed by further research, Longshore said. The findings might be limited to San Francisco, where the AIDS epidemic has had many years to develop, he said.

AIDS among heterosexual men and women has more than doubled since 1989.

Of the 860 people tested for HIV in the San Francisco study, 40 had the virus that causes AIDS, including 10 men and five women with no history of injecting drugs, the researchers said. A total of 378 men and 138 women had no history of such drug use.

″Unsafe sexual practices were common,″ the study said.

More than half the study subjects reported multiple sexual partners in the previous year, 97 percent who had more than one partner didn’t always use condoms and few subjects had asked new partners about their HIV status or sexual history.

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