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Most HIV-Infected Prisoners Go Untreated After Release

And that can pose a big public health threat, researchers warn

TUESDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Following their release from Texas prisons, only 5 percent of ex-inmates with HIV fill a prescription for medicine to treat their condition within the necessary 10 days, a new study finds.

"Those who discontinue ART [antiretroviral therapy] at this time are at increased risk of developing a higher viral burden, resulting in greater infectiousness and higher levels of drug resistance, potentially creating reservoirs of drug-resistant HIV in the general community," the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston researchers wrote in the Feb. 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The findings, which cover a recent four-year period, spark great concern about former prisoners' health and whether the state needs to intervene to prevent a public health crisis, the study's authors said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

"Greater coordination between state and local agencies, health-care institutions, and community-based organizations is needed to reduce this high rate of treatment interruption among newly released inmates," the researchers wrote.

Of the more than 2,100 HIV-infected former inmates released between 2004 and 2008, less than 18 percent filled their prescription for antiretroviral medication within 30 days of discharge, the researchers noted. That rate increased to only 30 percent within 60 days.

When breaking down the data, the authors found at least 90 percent of the former inmates experienced a treatment interruption, and many of these breaks lasted beyond 30 and even 60 days.

Those ex-inmates with a detectable viral load, as well as those on parole or receiving help through an AIDS Drug Assistance Program were more likely to fill their prescriptions than their counterparts.

Most former inmates lack health insurance for some time following prison release, so accessing antiretroviral therapy for HIV can be challenging without government help, the authors noted.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has more about HIV.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: JAMA, news release, Feb. 24, 2009

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