HIV-related stigma and knowledge in the United States: prevalence and trends, 1991-1999

Am J Public Health. 2002 Mar;92(3):371-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.92.3.371.


Objectives: This study assessed the prevalence of AIDS stigma and misinformation about HIV transmission in 1997 and 1999 and examined trends in stigma in the United States during the 1990s.

Methods: Telephone surveys with national probability samples of English-speaking adults were conducted in the period 1996 to 1997 (n = 1309) and in 1998 to 1999 (n = 669). Findings were compared with results from a similar 1991 survey.

Results: Overt expressions of stigma declined throughout the 1990s, with support for its most extreme and coercive forms (e.g., quarantine) at very low levels by 1999. However, inaccurate beliefs about the risks posed by casual social contact increased, as did the belief that people with AIDS (PWAs) deserve their illness. In 1999, approximately one third of respondents expressed discomfort and negative feelings toward PWAs.

Conclusion: Although support for extremely punitive policies toward PWAs has declined, AIDS remains a stigmatized condition in the United States. The persistence of discomfort with PWAs, blame directed at PWAs for their condition, and misapprehensions about casual social contact are cause for continuing concern and should be addressed in HIV prevention and education programs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / transmission
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel / ethnology
  • Data Collection
  • Fear
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Prejudice*
  • Public Health Practice / standards*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology
  • Stereotyping*
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / virology
  • United States