ATLANTA - About 9 percent of HIV-infected Georgia prison inmates got the virus in prison, according to a new study.
That information will help state officials decide how to prevent HIV's spread and whether to place HIV patients in separate facilities, said Brian Owens, assistant commissioner for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
"This provides a baseline," Mr. Owens said. "It's good to have some sound research" to help drive such decisions, he added.
The study was led by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It's being published this week in a CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It's one of the largest and most detailed examinations of HIV transmission in a state prison system, CDC officials said.
Researchers took a snapshot look at the 45,000 male inmates in Georgia's prison system in October 2005. It found that 856 - or 2 percent - were known to be infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Most of the men tested positive for HIV upon their arrival at prison. But 76 tested positive after being in prison.
"Transmission is not rare in prison, but neither did it appear to be rampant," said Patrick Sullivan, the CDC epidemiologist who oversaw the research.
The researchers interviewed 68 of the 76 men. They also looked at records for 13 other men who were inmates between 1992 and 2005 and caught the virus while in prison and who had since died or been released.
The researchers found that 59 percent said they had had sex with another male inmate and 32 percent said they had had sex with a male prison staff member.
Regarding the sexual activity, 46 percent said it was consensual, 9 percent said they were raped, and 16 percent said they had exchanged sex for money, food or cigarettes.
Only 10 percent said they used IV drugs in prison, but 59 percent said they received a tattoo while in prison. Tattooing with unsterile equipment could theoretically spread the virus, researchers said.
CDC officials say they recommend a variety of approaches to preventing HIV transmission, including providing condoms and needle-cleaning bleach.
Georgia is not considering condom distribution at this time, Mr. Owens said. Nor is it considering making bleach available to inmates, who might use it as a weapon, he said.
The state is considering housing HIV-infected inmates in separate facilities to provide them focused medical care, he said.