Elevated rates of trauma may put urban American Indian women at increased risk for contracting HIV

Urban American Indian women endure extremely high rates of physical and sexual trauma and, as a result, may engage in risky behaviors that place them at high risk for becoming infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, according to a new study focusing on American Indians in the New York City area.

The study also indicates that HIV rates among American Indian women may be much higher than suggested by HIV/AIDS surveillance data collected by the federal government. Specifically, 3 percent of the women in the study reported being HIV-positive, while 1 percent refused to answer questions about HIV and 7 percent said they did not know their HIV status. According to latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control, only 388 American Indian women in the United States, or .0002 percent, are living with HIV/AIDS.

Overall, 52 percent of 155 women surveyed reported being abused physically or sexually, or both. In addition, 91 percent of the women, all living in New York or New Jersey, had engaged in at least one lifetime risky sexual behavior and 7 percent said they had injected illegal drugs, according to the paper which appears in the current issue of the journal AIDS & Behavior.

"This is particularly distressing as it indicates that almost all participants could have been exposed to HIV infection at some point in their lives, seemingly belying the majority's reports of being at no or low risk for HIV," write University of Washington professors Jane Simoni and Karina Walters, the study's lead authors.

"Of even greater concern, however, is that 58 percent had participated in at least one lifetime high-risk sexual behavior such as sex with a stranger or an HIV-positive individual, and, therefore, may have been even more likely to be exposed to HIV."

The study was part of a comprehensive assessment of HIV risk behaviors, including intravenous drug use, and prevention needs among American Indians living in metropolitan New York funde

Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

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