Treatment difficult for HIV-infected street youth

December 12, 1999

Toronto street youth are especially vulnerable to HIV infection and their lifestyles hinder efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, says a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"One of our most significant findings was that many young people we spoke to living on Toronto's streets were very geographically mobile and the majority were not actually from Toronto," says study co-author Dr. Stanley Read, a professor in the University of Toronto's department of pediatrics and chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Hospital for Sick Children. "This frequent movement, combined with risky sexual and drug-related activity, complicates strategies to monitor and prevent HIV infection in this population."

Almost 700 street youth between the ages of 14 and 25 participated voluntarily in the study over approximately 10 months in 1991 and 1992. More than half of the participants moved at least once in the six months prior to their HIV testing and one in five had moved 10 or more times in that period.

All of the 15 youth in the study group who tested positive for HIV were male, with the highest infection rate in the 23- to 25-year-old group. Some of the reported risk behaviour associated with the HIV-infected young people included high levels of unprotected sex, prostitution and intravenous drug use.

"If we want to create and implement effective HIV prevention strategies for street youth, we have to acknowledge that they are a diverse and dynamic population," says Read. "We also have to understand the complicated social and environmental factors that have put them in a position where they engage in such dangerous activity."
Megan Easton
U of T Public Affairs
(416) 978-5948 ../2

University of Toronto

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