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Contaminated needles not contributing to spread of HIV in Africa


Injections with dirty or contaminated needles are not contributing to the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa say researchers from Imperial College London and the Biomedical Research and Training Institute, Zimbabwe.

Recently, some scientists have suggested that medical injections with contaminated needles were an important, but ignored, factor in the spread of HIV across sub-Saharan Africa. However, research published today in Public Library of Science Medicine shows that injections with dirty needles are not a major source of HIV transmission in rural Zimbabwe.

Dr Ben Lopman from Imperial College London, based at St Mary’s Hospital, and one of the researchers, says: “Some have speculated that unsafe medical injections are driving the continuing spread of HIV in many sub-Saharan African countries, but with this research we are now able to confidently exclude injections as a major transmission route.”

The researchers analysed data from the Manicaland HIV/STD Prevention Study, which had recruited 1847 men and women aged between 15 and 54 to the three year study. The study collected a range of health and socio-demographic data including self-reported history of STD symptoms and whether the participants had received any medical injections or needle pricks.

40.3 percent received an injection or needle prick during the three year study period, but these individuals were no more likely to acquire HIV than individuals who did not receive injections.

Despite the increased number of injections involved with childbearing and pregnancy there was no link to increased risk of HIV infection.

Dr Simon Gregson, from the Biomedical Research and Training Institute in Harare, Zimbabwe, and one of the researchers, says: “Clearly, it is still possible for an individual to get HIV through unsafe medical injections, but, overall in this population in Zimbabwe, unsafe injections are not an important cause of HIV infection.”

The Manicaland HIV/STD Prevention Study was supported by the Wellcome Trust, UNAIDS and CDC Zimbabwe.

Tony Stephenson | alfa
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