The epidemiology of HIV and syphilis among male commercial sex workers in northern Thailand

AIDS. 1995 May;9(5):517-21.


Objective: To examine the prevalence and incidence of HIV and syphilis, and risk behaviors for these infections, among 1,172 male commercial sex workers (CSW) followed prospectively from 1989 to 1994 in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

Methods: Twice yearly visits were conducted by the Thai Ministry of Public Health at all cooperating gay bars and clubs (17 sites) in Chiang Mai City as part of a national HIV sentinel surveillance. Men and boys who agreed were followed prospectively. Sentinel visits included an interview, HIV pre-test counseling, HIV and syphilis serology, condom distribution, and referral for post-test counseling. Participation was voluntary, confidential, and individual HIV results were available only to participating subjects. A total of 219 CSW were seen at least twice, allowing for incidence estimates based on 100 person-years (PY).

Results: Median age of male CSW was 20 years. Median time of work as a CSW was 4 months. Most men (57.6%) described themselves as heterosexual. Median number of clients was 2.5 per week, and reported condom use with clients was low: 42% reported inconsistent or no condom use, while 58% reported always using condoms. Reactive Venereal Disease Research Laboratory results were 7.6%, overall, but showed a declining trend. HIV prevalence was 1.4% in June 1989, 13.9% in June 1990, and 20.1% in December 1993, and showed a significant increasing trend. There were 27 incident HIV infections in 227.3 PY of observation, for an overall incidence during the 4.5-year period of 11.9 per 100 PY (95% confidence interval, 7.42-16.38).

Conclusion: Male CSW in northern Thailand are at high risk for HIV despite current prevention efforts. The majority are heterosexual, which may be an important epidemiologic link in the spread of HIV between male CSW users and heterosexual women in Thailand.

PIP: The first confirmed case of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in Thailand was that of a Thai male commercial sex worker (CSW) in 1985. Since that time, this disease has manifested itself among injecting drug users, female sex workers, and in the general heterosexual and homosexual population. This paper reports the findings of a 5-year Thai study in which 1172 male CSWs were studied at least once. The purpose of the study was to identify the prevalence, incidence, and risk behaviors of CSWs regarding HIV and syphilis. The HIV prevalence increased from 1.4% in 1989 to 20.1% by 1993. Overall, the HIV prevalence for the 5-year period was statistically significant at 16.6%. Syphilis for this same period was 7.6% HIV infections were confirmed using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Multivariate analysis was calculated using multiple logistic regression. All CSWs in this study were provided with HIV pre-test counseling, were subjected to HIV and syphilis serology, were given condoms, and were provided with a referral for post-test counseling. Of the 1172 men seen, 219 (18.6%) were seen more than once. 27 cases of HIV infection were confirmed in the latter group (12.3%). Heterosexual men were found to be at lower risk of contracting an HIV infection than homosexual men.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data
  • HIV Seroprevalence*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Work*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Syphilis / epidemiology*
  • Thailand / epidemiology