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

Federal scientists found that race was not a factor — there were no significant differences between blacks, whites or Hispanics.

Health officials have long believed poverty drives HIV epidemics, but there have been few studies to back that up. Some research actually contradicts that belief: Studies in Tanzania, Kenya and some other African countries actually found that wealthy people were more likely to be infected than the poor.

“In the United States, we haven’t have 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 new study.

More often, studies have focused on the race of HIV patients, their sexual orientation, or whether or not they use intravenous drugs.

The CDC report was released at the international AIDS conference in Vienna.

The study involved a survey in 2006 and 2007 of 9,000 heterosexual adults, ages 18 to 50. They answered questions on a computer 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; that group accounts for about 28 percent of Americans living with HIV. It did not involve gay or bisexual men, who have the highest rates of HIV in the United States.

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