A recent survey has revealed that HIV positive men who are aware of their diagnosis are more likely to have unprotected sex than men who are unaware of their status.
The study took oral fluid samples from more than 3,500 men in gay bars, clubs and saunas around the UK.
It found that 9% of men who took part were HIV positive.
The surveys were carried out in Glasgow and Edinburgh, London, Brighton and Manchester.
Of the 3,501 men who took part in the survey 318 (9%) were found to be HIV positive and of these 131 (41%) were unaware of their status.
92% of those who were found to be positive had previously had an HIV test and 62% thought that they were still HIV negative.
The study also found that men with a diagnosed HIV positive status were more likely to have unsafe sex then men who were HIV negative.
The results show that although persuading more men to find out their status is important, more work needs to be done to persuade men who are aware or unsure of their HIV status to practice safer sex.
In all five cities, trained fieldworkers distributed anonymous, self-complete questionnaires, and oral fluid collection kits to collect samples to be tested for HIV antibodies.
The comparable questionnaires included demographics, HIV testing history, perceived HIV status, and experience of STI’s in the previous year.
Questions on sexual behaviour included number of partners, partner type, and knowledge of partners’ HIV status.
The survey found that HIV-negative men were generally younger than undiagnosed and diagnosed HIV-positive men.
The majority of the men surveyed had some education beyond secondary school, but this was significantly lower among the men diagnosed with HIV.
There was a similar pattern for employment, with fewer men with diagnosed HIV being currently employed.
Men who were aware of their HIV-positive status reported the highest levels of sexual risk.
The report adds that these results may only be the tip of the iceberg:
“It is possible that men who only have safer sex could have been more willing to participate in the surveys than men who do not, therefore underestimating actual levels of sexual risk behaviour.
“There is no way to determine this but the anonymous, self-complete nature of the surveys hopefully limited this bias.”
The report concluded:
“The suggested reductions in new HIV infections that would result from decreases in undiagnosed infection rely on an assumption of lower sexual risk among those aware of their HIV-positive status, as well as the likely reduction in infection amongst those well controlled on antiretroviral therapy,
“However, in our study, it was men who were aware of their HIV-positive status who reported the highest levels of sexual risk, and the higher likelihood of unprotected anal sex with two or more partners among men diagnosed over a year earlier, suggests that maintenance of safer sex behaviour may be problematic for men living with HIV.”