OBJECTIVES--To determine the prevalence of infection with HIV-1, HIV2, HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 in female attenders at a central London sexually transmitted disease clinic in an 8 week period in 1989-1990, and compare it with similar samples studied between 1985 and 1987. DESIGN--Anonymous testing of serum samples from consecutive female patients having routine serological investigation for syphilis. Testing was for clinically important retroviruses, Hepatitis B core antibodies (anti-HBc), and p24 and reverse transcriptase (RT) antigens. Age (in 5 year bands), nationality (in broad geographical zones), diagnosis on the day of presentation, and history of intravenous drug usage were recorded for each patient. Annual gonorrhoea rates were analysed from 1981 to 1990. SETTING--Outpatients of the department of genitourinary medicine. PATIENTS--A total of 850 females attending consecutively and having routine syphilis serology. MAIN RESULTS--The prevalence of anti-HIV-1 in female attenders in 1989-1990 was 0.35% (3/850). Prevalence in the same clinic has remained statistically unchanged since the first female cases were identified in 1986. No cases of HIV-2, HTLV-1 or HTLV-2 were identified, and no early HIV-1 infection evidenced by the presence of p24 or RT antigenaemia was found. Female gonorrhoea rates continued to decline but other STD monthly/annual rates have remained unchanged. CONCLUSIONS--Over the last 5 years prevalence of HIV-1 infection in females in our clinic has remained unchanged and other retroviral infections have remained absent. However, the unaltered rates of other genital infections, their potential role in the heterosexual spread of HIV-1 infection, and the lack of evidence for any major changes in female sexual behaviour suggests there is a need to remain vigilant. This work complements the MRC multicentre, unlinked, genitourinary medicine clinic, anonymous testing programme, and our group will continue to apply this simple methodology to specimens from female attenders to contribute to the surveillance of the evolving HIV-1 epidemic.
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