OBJECTIVES: To determine demographic and behavioural factors and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) associated with prevalent HIV-1 infection among brothel based and other female sex workers (FSWs) in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. METHODS: Data were collected from questionnaires, physical examinations, and laboratory evaluations on Thai FSWs enrolled in a prospective cohort study in Chiang Rai, Thailand, from 1991 to the end of 1994. RESULTS: HIV-1 seroprevalence was 32% among 500 women: 47% for 280 brothel workers and 13% for 220 other FSWs (p < 0.001); 96% of infections were due to HIV-1 subtype E. At enrolment, other STIs were common: chlamydia, 20%; gonorrhoea, 15%; active syphilis (serological diagnosis), 9%; genital ulcer, 12%; seroreactivity to Haemophilus ducreyi, 21%, and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), 76%. On multiple logistic regression analysis, HIV-1 was associated with brothel work, birth in upper northern Thailand, initiation of commercial sex at < 15 years of age, syphilis, HSV-2 seropositivity, and genital ulcer. CONCLUSIONS: Young Thai FSWs working in brothels in northern Thailand in the early phase of the HIV epidemic have been at very high risk for HIV-1 infection and several other STIs. Programmes are needed to prevent girls and young women from entering the sex industry and to reduce the risk of infection with HIV-1 and other STIs.
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