Sex Work as an Emerging Risk Factor for Human Immunodeficiency Virus Seroconversion Among People who Inject Drugs in the SurvUDI Network

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Abstract

Background

Recent analyses have shown an emerging positive association between sex work and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) incidence among people who inject drugs (PWIDs) in the SurvUDI network.

Methods

Participants who had injected in the past 6 months were recruited across the Province of Quebec and in the city of Ottawa, mainly in harm reduction programs. They completed a questionnaire and provided gingival exudate for HIV antibody testing. The associations with HIV seroconversion were tested with a Cox proportional hazard model using time-dependent covariables including the main variable of interest, sexual activity (sex work; no sex work; sexually inactive). The final model included significant variables and confounders of the associations with sexual activity.

Results

Seventy-two HIV seroconversions were observed during 5239.2 person-years (py) of follow-up (incidence rates: total = 1.4/100 py; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1–1.7; sex work = 2.5/100 py; 95% CI, 1.5–3.6; no sex work = 0.8/100 py; 95% CI, 0.5–1.2; sexually inactive = 1.8/100 py; 95% CI, 1.1–2.5). In the final multivariate model, HIV incidence was significantly associated with sexual activity (sex work: adjusted hazard ratio [AHR], 2.19; 95% CI, 1.13–4.25; sexually inactive: AHR, 1.62; 95% CI, 0.92–2.88), and injection with a needle/syringe used by someone else (AHR, 2.84; 95% CI, 1.73–4.66).

Conclusions

Sex work is independently associated with HIV incidence among PWIDs. At the other end of the spectrum of sexual activity, sexually inactive PWIDs have a higher HIV incidence rate, likely due to more profound dependence leading to increased vulnerabilities, which may include mental illness, poverty, and social exclusion. Further studies are needed to understand whether the association between sex work and HIV is related to sexual transmission or other vulnerability factors.

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