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Rising HIV prevalence in STD clinic attenders at Chandigarh (north India)— a relatively low prevalence area
  1. Bhushan Kumar,
  2. Somesh Gupta
  1. Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh-160 012, India
  1. Dr Kumar

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Editor,—The patients attending the STD clinics are at risk of having concurrent HIV infection. The trends of HIV infection in these patients may reflect the trends of HIV epidemic in the community. We have analysed the HIV status of 981 patients (824 males, 157 females) who attended our STD clinic from January 1993 to July 1999 (about 6½ years). The screening for HIV was done by ELISA. Those who were found positive were tested by repeat ELISA utilising another blood sample and considered HIV seropositive only, if both samples were found positive. The STDs were diagnosed by appropriate laboratory tests. The majority of the attenders had STDs; however, a small but significant proportion of patients had psychosexual disorders and other non-sexually transmitted genital diseases. Four per cent of the 981 patients—that is, 40 patients (26 males, 14 females) were found to be seropositive for HIV. The annual prevalence showed a rising trend (1993, 0.56%; 1994, 4.4%; 1995, 2.4%; 1996, 4%; 1997, 4.4%; 1998, 5.7%; and January to July 1999, 8.7%). The prevalence of HIV seropositivity in different STDs is shown in table 1. Large proportions of seropositive patients were truckers (15/40, 37.5%) and housewives (12/40, 30%). Among 12 housewives, four were wives of truckers. All of the 26 seropositive male patients confessed to at least one sexual contact with commercial sex workers (CSWs). Twenty eight (70%) seropositive patients had one STD, while the remaining 12 (30%) patients had more than one STD; 18 (45%) seropositive patients had STDs with either atypical morphologies or unusual severity, the remaining 22 (55%) presented with usual morphologies.

India is a country with a wide variation in geographical, cultural, and behavioural patterns. This is also reflected in the trends of current HIV epidemic in the various regions of the country. We believe that no other country has such a high intranation variation in HIV epidemic status. Comparison of our data on HIV prevalence with STD clinics of different regions of the country highlights this difference. The high HIV prevalence zones of the country include western and southern zones, where HIV prevalence among STD clinic attenders varies from 15% to 33%.13 On the other hand, in eastern and northern zones, it is still low and varies from 0.2 to 4%.1, 35

In our study we found that a high proportion of HIV positive patients were truckers, who generally acquired infection from CSWs from the highways to Bombay or Chennai, two metropolitan cities of the western and southern zones respectively. These long distance truckers have a high risk sexual behaviour and contribute in the spread of HIV infection throughout the country in a short time.2, 6

Even though the present figures for HIV seropositivity in STD clinic attenders are not very high, the HIV epidemic in this region is now progressing at an alarming rate. In our study, the prevalence in our STD clinic increased from 0.56% in 1993 to 8.7% in 1999 (to July). This indicates that northern India is entering from a low level epidemic (HIV prevalence less than 5% in STD patients) to a concentrated epidemic.1 This calls for an immediate vigorous intervention programme to be introduced in this region.

Table 1

Frequency of HIV seropositivity in different sexually transmitted diseases