Objective: To assess HIV prevalence and related risk factors among inmates at the Quebec Detention Centre (QDC).
Design: Cross-sectional prevalence study.
Methods: Inmates incarcerated at the QDC in September 1994 were asked to participate in an anonymous survey concerning HIV infection. Volunteers answered a questionnaire and provided a saliva sample during a meeting with an interviewer.
Results: The overall participation rate was 95% (618 out of 651). HIV prevalence was 2% (11 out of 499) in men. All HIV-infected men were injecting drug users (IDU) with an HIV prevalence of 9% (11 out of 129) in this group. HIV prevalence was 14% (9/63) among male IDU admitting previous needle-sharing and 3% (two out of 66) among the other IDU (odds ratio, 5.3; P = 0.028). Twelve male inmates admitted injecting drugs during imprisonment, of whom 11 shared needles and three were HIV-positive. HIV prevalence in men reporting sexual intercourse with men prior to incarceration was 10% (five out of 52). Nine of the 119 women were HIV-infected (8%), seven of whom were IDU (prevalence of 16% in female IDU). One of the two non-IDU had sexual contacts with male IDU, and the other with men who had sex with men. Tattooing was not associated with HIV infection in either men or women.
Conclusions: Prisoners constitute a group at high risk of HIV infection mainly because of the high proportion of them who are IDU. Imprisonment offers a good opportunity to provide education and preventive programs to this specific group that might otherwise be difficult to reach.