Dale Stratford likes to hang out at truck stops, but all in the cause of science. Stratford, a medical anthropologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, has just concluded the first study of sexual behavior among American truckers. Research in Africa and India has shown that long-haul truck drivers may play a significant role in spreading HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Until now, nobody had explored the problem in the United States.
Over nine months, Stratford and her team interviewed 71 male drivers at four Florida truck stops. Nearly one third of them admitted to frequent on-the-road sex with prostitutes, and few ever used condoms. Many of the prostitutes solicited sex to obtain money for injectable drugs, a risk factor for AIDS if needles are shared. Truckers also admitted drug use, mostly methamphetamine, cocaine, and alcohol. And most of the drivers Stratford questioned were misinformed about AIDS. Some thought it a disease unique to gay men; others were convinced that condoms offered no protection.
"We know that truckers who engage in unprotected sex are at increased risk for AIDS. Now is the time to set up prevention activities," Stratford says. She proposes establishing clinics to test, treat, and educate truckers about all manner of health risks, including HIV.