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July 17, 2003 06:04pm
HIV Epidemic Rapidly Expanding in Rural Russia
Source: Reuters
by: Megan Rauscher

(NEW YORK, NY) -- In Russia, the number of new HIV cases is rapidly increasing, not only in large urban areas but also in rural areas as well, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

According to a report in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for July 18th, Orel Oblast, a predominantly agricultural province in central European Russia, has seen a 40-fold increase in HIV during the period 1998-2001. The annual rate of new positive HIV tests increased from 5 per 100,000 tests in 1998 to 202 per 100,000 in 2001. HIV testing patterns during this time remained stable.

The "overwhelming majority" of new HIV cases have occurred among young, male injection drug users (IDUs), officials with the CDC in Atlanta and the Orel Oblast Aids Center have learned.

However, recent data also point to a shift in the HIV epidemic in Orel Oblast from IDUs to their heterosexual partners and to the general heterosexual population. For example, in 2001, nearly half of the HIV-infected women and more than 10 percent of HIV-infected men in Orel Oblast were exposed to HIV through heterosexual contact and half of those infected heterosexually had sex partners who were IDUs.

"I must say this is what we have seen in other places of a really rapid initial increase in HIV," CDC epidemiologist Dr. Shannon L. Hader told Reuters Health. "Because Orel was doing good monitoring and good surveillance for HIV they were able to identify this initial rapid increase in cases, and perhaps with good prevention activities catastrophe can be avoided."

In addition to general prevention activities, she said specific efforts designed to encourage and help IDUs to kick the habit or build skills for safer injecting and sexual practices are needed to curb the HIV epidemic among IDUs and their partners in Russia.

Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2003.

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