Objective: To examine ethnic differences in the socio-epidemiological and clinical characteristics of a cohort of women with HIV infection in Britain and Ireland.
Design and methods: Analysis of baseline data (ethnic group, sexual history, likely route of HIV infection, reasons for HIV testing and first AIDS-defining disease) from 400 women with HIV infection recruited into a cohort study from 15 genitourinary medicine/HIV clinics in Britain and Ireland.
Results: Sixty-five per cent of women were white and 29% black African. Their median number of lifetime sexual partners was seven and three, respectively (P < 0.001). Ninety-three per cent of black African and 43% of white women were probably infected through sexual intercourse. Injecting drug use was the most likely route of infection in 55% of white women, but none of the black African women. Perceived risk (33%) or investigation of symptoms (26%) were the most common reasons for HIV testing. Seven per cent of white women and 16% of black African women (P < 0.001) had AIDS when HIV infection was diagnosed. The distribution of first AIDS-defining diagnoses differed (P = 0.001) by ethnic group. For white women, the most common disease was Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia; for black African women it was pulmonary tuberculosis.
Conclusion: There are important differences between black African and white women in sexual history and route of transmission, disease stage at diagnosis and pattern of AIDS-defining diseases.