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J Urban Health. 2001 Jun;78(2):241-55.

Characteristics and trends of newly identified HIV infections among incarcerated populations: CDC HIV voluntary counseling, testing, and referral system, 1992-1998.

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  • 1Prevention Services Research Branch, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Surveillance and Epidemiology, National Center for HIV, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention, Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, 30333, USA.


Inmate contact with the correctional health care system provides public health professionals an opportunity to offer HIV screening to a population that might prove difficult to reach otherwise. We report on publicly funded human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) voluntary counseling, testing, and referral (VCTR) services provided to incarcerated persons in the United States. Incarcerated persons seeking VCTR services received pretest counseling and gave a blood specimen for HIV antibody testing. Specimens were considered positive if the enzyme immunoassays were repeatedly reactive and the Western blot or immunofluorescent assay was reactive. Demographics, HIV risk information, and laboratory test results were collected from each test episode. Additional counseling sessions provided more data. From 1992 to 1998, there were 527,937 records available from correctional facilities from 48 project areas; 484,277 records included a test result and 459,155 (87.0%) tests came with complete data. Overall, 3.4% (16,797) of all tests were reactive for HIV antibodies. Of reactive tests accompanied by self-reports of previous HIV test results (15,888), previous test results were 44% positive, 23% negative, 6% inconclusive or unspecified, and 27% no previous test. This indicates that 56% of positive tests were newly identified. During the study period, the number of tests per year increased three-fold. Testing increased among all racial/ethnic groups and both sexes. The largest increase was for heterosexuals who reported no other risk, followed by persons with a sex partner at risk. Overall, the greatest number of tests was reported for injection drug users (IDUs) (128,262), followed by men who have sex with men (MSM) (19,928); however, episodes for MSM doubled during the study, while for IDUs, they increased 74%. The absolute number of HIV-positive (HIV+) tests increased 50%; however, the percentage of all tests that were HIV+ decreased nearly 50% due to the increased number of tests performed. HIV+ tests fell 50% among blacks (7.6% to 3.7%), Hispanics (6.7% to 2.5%), and males (5.1% to 2.5%); 33% among females (4.5% to 3.1%); 95% among IDUs (8.6% to 4.4%); and 64% among MSM (19.3% to 11.8%). Among HIV+ episodes, those for IDUs dropped from 61.5% to 36.6%, while episodes for heterosexuals with no reported risk factor increased from 4.3% to 18.2%. The use of VCTR services by incarcerated persons rose steadily from 1992 to 1998, and 56% of HIV+ tests were newly identified. High numbers of tests that recorded risk behaviors for contracting HIV indicate that correctional facilities provide an important access point for prevention efforts.

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