Objective: To determine risk factors for the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), including injecting drug use (IDU), sexual behaviour and other sexually transmissible diseases (STDs), in female prostitutes who attended the Sydney Sexual Health (previously STD) Centre.
Design: We surveyed by questionnaire 231 (47%) of 491 female prostitutes who visited the Centre over a 19 month period from 1986 to 1988. All were tested for HIV antibody.
Main outcome: All the women were seronegative for HIV but a number of major risk factors for infection were identified.
Results: Seventeen of 26 (65%) current injecting drug users had shared needles in the previous 6 months. Nineteen per cent of those surveyed had bisexual non-paying partners and 21% had partners who injected drugs. Sixty nine per cent always used condoms for vaginal intercourse with paying clients, but they were rarely used with non-paying partners. Condom use was also rare for anal intercourse with clients and/or partners by those (18%) who practised it. Seventeen per cent used condoms alone for contraception and 48% relied on oral contraceptives. We found a reduction in gonorrhoea, herpes and trichomoniasis when compared with a 1985 study conducted at the same Centre. However, there was an increase in reported abnormal cervical cytology.
Conclusion: In spite of behaviour change by some, there are still many women working as prostitutes in Sydney who remain seriously at risk of HIV infection. We recommend more widespread use of barrier methods of contraception, intensified efforts to prevent the sharing of intravenous needles, closer monitoring of the health of prostitutes, and scientific study of their paying and non-paying sexual partners.