, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 137-146

Gender differences in sexual and injection risk behavior among active young injection drug users in San Francisco (the UFO study)

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Abstract

Female injection drug users (IDUs) represent a large proportion of persons infected with HIV in the United States, and women who inject drugs have a high incidence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) injection. Therefore, it is important to understand the role of gender in injection risk behavior and the transmission of blood-borne virus. In 2000–2002, 844 young (<30 years old) IDUs were surveyed in San Francisco. We compared self-reported risk behavior between 584 males and 260 female participants from cross-sectional baseline data. We used logistic regression to determine whether demographic, structural, and relationship variables explained increased needle borrowing, drug preparation equipment sharing, and being injected by another IDU among females compared to males. Females were significantly younger than males and were more likely to engage in needle borrowing, ancillary equipment sharing, and being injected by someone else. Females were more likely than males to report recent sexual intercourse and to have IDU sex partners. Females and males were not different with respect to education, race/ethnicity, or housing status. In logistic regression models for borrowing a used needle and sharing drug preparation equipment, increased risk in females was explained by having an injection partner who was also a sexual partner. Injecting risk was greater in the young female compared to male IDUs despite equivalent frequency of injecting. Overlapping sexual and injection partnerships were a key factor in explaining increased injection risk in females. Females were more likely to be injected by another IDU even after adjusting for years injecting, being in a relationship with another IDU, and other potential confounders. Interventions to reduce sexual and injection practices that put women at risk of contracting hepatitis and HIV are needed.