About one in 500 U.S. college students is infected with the AIDS virus, and further spread of the deadly disease is likely on campuses unless students change their sex habits, a study concludes.
Based on the new findings, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 25,000 and 35,000 college students are infected with HIV, the AIDS virus.``Risky behaviors are occurring, and now we know we have the infection. It is cause for concern and appropriate attention,' said Dr. Helene D. Gayle, who directed the study.
The CDC study is the first nationwide attempt to judge the presence of HIV on college campuses, said co-author Dr. Richard P. Keeling of the American College Health Association.
It shows that the virus is probably about as common there as in the public at large.
However, the researchers cautioned that AIDS could still spread dramatically among college students, just as some other sexually transmitted diseases have done.
``I think probably the most important thing from this study is that it shows us the potential,' said Keeling. ``The combination of a sexually transmitted disease tossed into campus behavior has the potential for very serious consequences in the future. It also shows us we have an opportunity to prevent that.'
The study was based on random testing of blood samples drawn from 16,863 students at 19 schools, most of them large state universities. It found that two-tenths of 1 percent of the students were infected with the virus.
``This is both good news and bad news,' commented Leighton Ku, a public health specialist at the Urban Institute in Washington. ``It's good that it's not sky high, as some might have feared. But it's bad that it's there at all.'
Among other results of the study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine are these:
Overall, the survey found 30 AIDS-infected students. All but two of them were men.
The infection rate was half of 1 percent for men and two-hundredths of 1 percent in women.
Those over age 24 were seven times more likely than younger students to be infected.
At 10 of the 19 campuses, the survey turned up no AIDS infections at all.
The researchers noted that the risk of AIDS for college students is far lower than among some other groups, such as male homosexuals and drug abusers.
Keeling said the study underscores the need to persuade college students to use condoms and limit the number of their sexual partners and otherwise reduce their risk of becoming infected.