A study published Thursday found that men infected with the AIDS virus were three times more likely than woman to be correctly diagnosed at one New York emergency room because doctors often were too shy to ask women about sex.

Mayris P. Webber, a researcher with the Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said a study of more than 2,000 patients at the emergency room of another hospital, in the Bronx, found that health workers were more likely to ask patients about drug habits than about unsafe sex.She writes in the American Journal of Public Health that women infected with the AIDS virus during sexual intercourse thus often go undiagnosed until later in their disease.

Emergency room personnel were equally reluctant to ask about homosexual activity, Webber said.

Most of the HIV transmission at the surveyed hospital is through intravenous drug use and heterosexual contact, she said.

"When they ask about risky behavior, 92.5 percent of the time they asked only about IV drug risk. I think it is easier to ask a person about an IV drug history than it is about sexual histories," said Webber. "That shyness or discomfort is a disadvantage for women patients."

She noted that, statistically, women are almost as likely to acquire AIDS from sexual intercourse as from intravenous drug use and that, as a result, women at the hospital were more adversely affected by the failure to ask about sex habits.