Inconsistent condom use among HIV-positive women in the "Treatment as Prevention Era": data from the Italian DIDI study

J Int AIDS Soc. 2013 Oct 16;16(1):18591. doi: 10.7448/IAS.16.1.18591.


Introduction: Translation of the evidence regarding the protective role of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) on HIV sexual transmission rates into sexual behaviour patterns of HIV-infected subjects remains largely unexplored. This study aims to describe frequency of self-reported condom use among women living with HIV in Italy and to investigate the variables associated with inconsistent condom use (ICU).

Methods: DIDI (Donne con Infezione Da HIV) is an Italian multicentre study based on a questionnaire survey performed during November 2010 and February 2011. Women-reported frequency of condom use was dichotomized in "always" versus "at times"/"never" (ICU).

Results: Among 343 women, prevalence of ICU was 44.3%. Women declared a stable partnership with an HIV-negative (38%) and with an HIV-positive person (43%), or an occasional sexual partner (19%). Among the 194 women engaged in a stable HIV-negative or an occasional partnership, 51% reported fear of infecting the partner. Nonetheless, 43% did not disclose HIV-positive status. Less than 5% of women used contraceptive methods other than condoms. At multivariable analysis, variables associated with ICU in the subgroup of women with a stable HIV-negative or an occasional HIV-unknown partner were: having an occasional partner (AOR 3.51, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.44-8.54, p=0.005), and reporting fear of infecting the sexual partner (AOR 3.20, 95% CI 1.43-7.16, p=0.004). Current use of HAART together with virological control in plasma level did not predict ICU after adjusting for demographic, behavioural and HIV-related factors. With regard to socio-demographic factors, lower education was the only variable significantly associated with ICU in the multivariate analysis (AOR 2.27, 95% CI 1.07-4.82, p=0.03). No association was found between high adherence to HAART and ICU after adjusting for potential confounders (AOR 0.89, 95% CI 0.39-2.01, p=0.78).

Conclusions: Currently in Italy, the use of HAART with undetectable HIV RNA in plasma as well as antiretroviral adherence is not associated with a specific condom use pattern in women living with HIV and engaged with a sero-discordant or an HIV-unknown partner. This might suggest that the awareness of the protective role of antiretroviral treatment on HIV sexual transmission is still limited among HIV-infected persons, at least in this country.

Keywords: HIV; adherence; antiviral therapy; condom use; women.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires