An explosion of HIV cases among injecting drug users in Africa could spread to the wider population, says an Australian researcher.

A study conducted in Tanzania by Dr Mark Stoove from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne revealed that 35 percent of injecting drug users are now HIV positive in the city of Dar es Salaam.

The rate of infection almost doubled in women with 67 percent found carrying HIV compared with just 30 percent of men. Dr Stoove said this disparity was due to female injecting drug users often being linked to the sex trade.

The research was presented on Tuesday at the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC and concluded the results were being driven by increasing drug trafficking and use in the last decade.

Dr Stoove told Australian Associated Press that while rates of HIV had fallen globally due to wider distribution of antiretroviral drugs, increases in rates of infection among drug users were threatening to undo that work.

“All of that work going into prevention in heterosexual populations through antiretroviral therapies can potentially be watered down by the lack of attention to particularly high risk populations like drug users,” Dr Stoove told AAP.

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