Background: OBJECTIVE: To estimate the prevalence of HIV infection in female sex workers in Northeast Brazil.
Methods: Cross-sectional study performed with sex workers in Teresina, Northeast Brazil. Data collection was performed using an instrument containing sociodemographic information and risk behavior for contracting HIV. Next, a 10ml peripheral blood sample was drawn for an anti-HIV test using the ELISA method. Data analysis was performed using the SPSS statistical package, version 21.0. This study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee.
Results: The participants were 402 female sex workers. Their mean age was 30.5 years (SD=9.2; min = 18; Max= 64). Most women referred not having a steady partner (63.4%), and three to six years of schooling (67.2%). Regarding their sexual behavior, 57.7% had their first intercourse before the age of 15; 16.9% reported a history of sexually transmitted infections, with warts being the most commonly cited. The number of sexual partners per week ranged from one to over 20, with a mean 2.4 (SD=1.8). A total of 122 (30.3%) sex workers were unaware of the signs and symptoms of these infections; 380 (94.5%) women agreed to provide a blood sample, of whom 2.4% tested positive for anti-HIV.
Conclusions: The high prevalence of HIV, added to the multiplicity of sex partners and the women’s poor knowledge regarding sexually transmitted infections reveal the vulnerability of these women to HIV. Knowledge on HIV epidemiology among populations of difficult access such as sex workers is essential to plan effective prevention and control programs in regions were the epidemics is concentrated, as in Brazil.