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Migrants face high AIDS risk

Migrant farm workers may be 10 times more likely to be infected with the AIDS virus than the typical American and nearly half have tuberculosis infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Thursday.

Migrant worker populations in the East are more at risk from disease than others, health officials said.

The Atlanta-based federal health agency said 5 percent of all adults tested at migrant farm worker camps in the southwest Florida town of Immokalee were found to be infected with AIDS.

Most were unaware of their infection, CDC said, and many also were ignorant of how the AIDS virus is spread and how infection can be prevented.

Dr. Joann Schulte, a CDC preventive medicine specialist, said the level of AIDS infection among migrant farm workers was 10 times the estimated 0.5 percent infection rate for the entire United States.

The CDC also found about 45 percent of the migrant workers were infected with tuberculosis although only one person was found to have an active infection. About 8 percent were found to be infected with syphilis.

"Based on what we found . . . and in some other studies, we think it's a problem of migrant farm workers as a group," she said. "People know it's a problem in the cities for people who don't have access to health care, but not a lot of attention has been paid to rural areas."

The tuberculosis rate "is consistent with what has been found in other studies of migrant farm workers and it's about the same as the level of TB in some inner city areas," she said.

Migrant workers typically use Florida, Texas and California as a home base, but those on the East Coast appear to be more susceptible to the three diseases, Ms. Schulte said.

"The East Coast stream seems to be more ethnically diverse and to have more people going in and out of it," she said. "We found migrants from Bangladesh and Korea. Those aren't typical migrant populations."

The CDC found that many of the migrants are unaware of the risk factors for AIDS and as many as 47 percent had never used a condom.

_ Material from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this report.