Background: Sexual transmission is the fastest growing route of HIV transmission in China. We undertook this study to describe the risk factors for HIV infection in female sex workers (FSWs), and to determine the commercial sex venues where FSWs are most at risk of being infected with or infecting others with HIV.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of 737 FSWs in Kaiyuan City, Yunnan Province in southern China, which took place from March to May 2006.
Results: The overall HIV prevalence was 10.3%, but prevalence varied with sex venue with 25.8% of FSWs working on the streets being HIV-positive and none of the FSWs working in nightclubs. Adjusted odds ratios (OR) of HIV infection were 9.1 (95% confidence interval (CI) 4.67-17.55) for injection drug use, 3.3 (95% CI 1.46-7.37) for non-injection illegal drug use, 2.7 (95% CI 1.25-5.93) for duration of sex work > or = 5 years, 2.2 (95% CI 1.05-4.70) for infection with herpes simplex virus type 2, and 2.0 (95% CI 1.12-3.47) for working at a higher risk entertainment venue. Although condom use was not a significant risk factor in the overall model, FSWs in lower risk venues who reported consistent use with clients had a 70% reduction in HIV infections (OR 0.30, 95% CI 0.12-0.90).
Conclusions: Illegal drug use, particularly with injection drugs, is the single greatest risk factor for HIV infection among FSWs in Kaiyuan City, China. FSWs working on the street or in temporary sub-lets, beauty salons, or saunas are at particularly high risk for transmitting and being infected with HIV. HIV prevention efforts among FSWs should target illegal drug users and these other subgroups.