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Health trends

Published:Wednesday | March 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Interpreting sexual behaviour data

The authors of a new USAID-supported study have called for cautious interpretation of self-reported data about condom use, citing some limitations of the current methods used to collect these data.

Nine hundred and eighteen women enrolled in the randomised controlled study in Zimbabwe. Each woman had previously participated in a large HIV-intervention trial. The study compared two ways of collecting self-reported data about sexual behaviour. For the first group, interviewers met with women face-to-face and asked them a series of questions about their sexual behaviour. For the second group, an audio computer-assisted self-interview system asked the same series of questions.

Next, participants were asked to provide a vaginal swab, and the scientists tested the swab for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a biomarker that indicates recent exposure to semen. Nearly half of the participants whose swabs tested positive for PSA reported either that they had not had sex (12 per cent) or that they had condom-protected sex (36 per cent) in the past two days. The accuracy of self-reported data did not vary based on interview type.

Accurately measuring sexual behaviour is a persistent challenge in HIV-prevention research. Respondents sometimes provide answers they think will please the interviewer, or they forget about their behaviour. Occasionally, questionnaires are poorly worded. This study highlights the need to improve data collection methods relating to sexual behaviour.

Source: Family Health International

Get a flu shot

A United States government panel is now recommending that virtually all Americans get a flu shot each year, starting this fall. The Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices had gradually been expanding its recommendation for flu shots - 85 per cent of Americans were already included.

Last Wednesday, the panel voted to recommend a seasonal flu vaccination for everyone except babies younger than six months and those with egg allergies or other unusual conditions.

The panel's recommendation now goes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC usually follows the panel's advice and spreads the message to doctors and hospitals across the country.

The CDC vaccination recommendations tend to be influential with the doctors who give the shots and the health insurers who pay for them. Flu shots are already recommended for 85 per cent of the US public, including pregnant women, children older than six months, adults 50 and older, people with certain chronic health conditions, health-care workers and those who take care of people in a recommended group. The only people who weren't specifically included were healthy people ages 19 to 49 who don't have close contact with anyone at risk of flu and its complications.

Source: The Associated Press