Objective: To assess risk factors for infection and to determine HIV prevalence in a sample of international travellers.
Design: A cross-sectional survey of new patients attending a hospital outpatient clinic, and self-completion of an anonymous questionnaire on sexual behaviour prior to and during travel. Urine samples were tested for the presence of antibodies to HIV.
Setting: The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, London, UK.
Subjects: All new patients over a 6-month period.
Results: Of 782 people approached, 757 (97%) agreed to participate: 141 (18.6%) had had new sexual partners during their most recent trip abroad. Almost two-thirds of those having sex abroad did not use condoms on every occasion with a new partner, and 5.7% contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD) during their most recent trip; 26% of men from World Health Organization Pattern I countries who had new sexual partners abroad paid for sex. Sixteen out of 731 (2.2%) participants were HIV-antibody-positive. HIV positivity was associated with being born in east, central or southern Africa, having symptoms of an STD since arriving in the United Kingdom and being treated for an STD since arrival.
Conclusion: The rates of unsafe sex and payment for sex abroad reported by these international travellers indicate the potential for contracting and transmitting STD, including HIV, in both their foreign and domestic sexual partnerships. With the increasing HIV incidence in Asia (the most common destination for UK travellers after sub-Saharan Africa), the number of cases of HIV contracted abroad may rise in the future.