A study by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, conducted at the San Francisco County Jail, has found that anonymous HIV screening of jail inmates offers an opportunity to track the epidemic in at-risk groups, particularly those who traditionally under-utilize health care services.
"This type of screening, called sentinel surveillance, offers an early warning system to monitor the extent of HIV infection in a generally low socioeconomic group that doesn't often access screening services," said the study's lead investigator, Willi McFarland, MD, PhD, of the San Francisco Department of Public Health HIV Seroepidemiology Unit and the University of California, San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies.
Research findings were reported today (July 11) at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.
The on-going effort, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involves a close collaboration of the San Francisco health department's AIDS Office, Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention and Control Services, and Forensic AIDS program.
Researchers conduct the HIV testing through an STD services screening program established by the health department three years ago at the county jail. It offers voluntary screening for gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia within hours of arrest to male inmates aged 18-35 and females 18-45. Most prisoners offered the services have chosen to participate in the program, and it has detected a higher number of STDs than are typically picked up in screening programs that are available to populations outside the jail setting, said McFarland. "We saw in this successful STD screening program an opportunity to conduct a completely blinded HIV surveillance survey in high-risk groups brought to the jail," said McFarland.
The study, which began in June 1999, tested for HIV in residual blood samples drawn for syphilis testing. Researchers did not track the patients by name, but
Contact: Corinna Kaarlela
University of California - San Francisco