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Am J Public Health. 1993 March; 83(3): 363–368.
PMCID: PMC1694640

The underrecognition of HIV infection in women in an inner-city emergency room.


OBJECTIVES. This study analyzed the recognition of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and associated factors in women and men attending an emergency room in the Bronx, New York, NY. METHODS. From April 16, 1989, to May 5, 1989, the emergency room records of 2102 consecutive patients 13 years of age or older were reviewed and, for 856 patients undergoing venipuncture, linked anonymously to results of HIV antibody tested in excess blood. RESULTS. HIV seroprevalence was 7.8% in women and 14.6% in men. Among seropositive women, 5.0% had acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), compared with 26.0% of men. Excluding patients with AIDS, HIV infection was recognized in 13.2% of women and 27.0% of men. HIV infection was recognized only in women aged 25 through 44 years. In men, recognition occurred in all age groups. Clinical presentation did not distinguish the seropositive from seronegative women. Risk assessments were recorded less frequently for women (11.2%) than men (15.9%). For 92.5% of persons with any behavioral risk assessment, injecting drug use was the only behavior assessed. CONCLUSIONS. HIV infection is underrecognized in women, in part, because of a lower prevalence of AIDS. Universal HIV risk assessment, which includes heterosexual behaviors, may help increase recognition of HIV in women and opportunities for early intervention.

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