Purpose: The purposes of this study were: (a) to identify human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevalence in Toronto street youth through paired blood and saliva specimens; (b) to identify the HIV risk and prevention behaviors of street involved youth; and (c) to identify demographic or other factors that may contribute to the risk of street youth becoming infected with HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the future.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional convenience study of street-involved youth aged 14-25 years. The youth participated in interviews to identify HIV-related knowledge and personal risk and preventive behaviors. Following interviews, they were asked to provide a saliva sample, blood spot, or both. They could refuse one or both samples without jeopardizing their involvement or receiving an honorarium. Two males were the only participants who declined to provide a sample.
Results: Fifteen of 695 (2.2%) youth tested positive for HIV infection. All were male, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years. Same and opposite sex, intravenous (IV) drug use, prostitution, and incarceration were risk factors associated with positive HIV test results. The rate of HIV infection was seven times greater for the group 20 years of age and older (20-25) compared to the younger group aged 14-9 years. The proportion testing positive for HIV from small cities, towns, and rural communities in Ontario was 40%; yet, they represented 21% of the study population. Most (57%) youth had been on their own for no more than 3 years and had moved frequently. Nearly two thirds (60%) had stayed in hostels or homeless shelters in the previous 6 months.
Conclusion: Street youth in Canada are at high risk of HIV infection with their risk increasing with age. Unprotected (same and opposite) sex, IV drug use, prostitution and incarceration were linked to their HIV infections. The high level of mobility identified by street youth challenges governments, communities, and public health officials to develop appropriate prevention strategies and to carefully monitor the spread of HIV infection in this vulnerable population.