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HIV linked more to poverty than race, study finds

ATLANTA - Poverty is perhaps the most important factor in whether inner-city heterosexuals are infected with the AIDS virus, according to the first government study of its kind.

The study, released yesterday, suggests that HIV is epidemic in certain poverty-stricken urban neighborhoods. And, more significantly, poor heterosexuals in those areas were twice as likely to be infected as heterosexuals who lived in the same community but had more money.

Federal scientists found that there were no significant differences between blacks and whites, or Hispanics.

Health officials have long believed that poverty drives HIV epidemics, but there have been few studies to back that up. "In the United States, we haven't had a history of looking in depth at the association between poverty and HIV," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mermin oversees the CDC team that did the study.

The study involved a survey in 2006 and 2007 of 9,000 heterosexual adults, ages 18 to 50. They answered questions about their income, condom use and other details and were given HIV tests. The research was done in high-poverty neighborhoods in 23 U.S. cities. It focused on heterosexuals who don't use intravenous drugs.

The results: HIV was detected in 2.4 percent of the people who were living below the federal poverty line, which in 2007 was an annual income of roughly $10,000 or less for an individual.

Infections were found in 1.2 percent of people in the same neighborhoods who live above the poverty line. The results suggest people in low-income neighborhoods are likelier to be infected because they live among more infected people.

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