Survey reveals that 41% of HIV infected men are unaware of status

Adam Lake June 17, 2008
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A recent survey has revealed that HIV positive men who are aware of their diagnosis are more likely to have unprotected sex then men who are unaware of their status.

The survey, which took oral fluid samples from over 3500 men in gay bars, clubs and sauna’s around the UK, found that 9% of men who took part in the survey were HIV positive.

The surveys were carried out in Glasgow and Edinburgh by the MRC, and in London, Brighton and Manchester by the UCL Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research.

Of the 3501 men who took part in the survey 318 (9%) were found to be HIV infected and of these 131 (41.2%) were unaware of their status. 92% of those who were found to be HIV infected have previously had and HIV test and 62.3% thought that they were still HIV negative.

The results also found that men with undiagnosed or 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 there 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.

Curiously, undiagnosed men were more likely to report their most recent HIV test was in the 12 months prior to the survey than HIV-negative men, but were less likely to report never having tested.

Men who were aware of their HIV-positive status reported the highest levels of sexual risk.

The research also adds that these results may only be the tip of the iceberg, stating:

“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.”

Terrence Higgins Trust’s Will Nutland, who is the Strategic Lead in Health Promotion for the sexual health charity, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“All of the data shows that at the point of HIV diagnosis it is men who practice unsafe sex who are more likely to be found to be HIV positive,

“Men who are testing positive for HIV infection are more likely to be practicing unsafe sex, I don’t believe it is the case that men start to practice unsafe sex after their find out their status.

“What is most concerning about these results is the large amount of gay man who are unaware of their HIV status,

“The Terrence Higgins Trust is about to review our policy on this but we believe that men who have sex with men should have at least one annual sexual health check up and those in high risk groups should be thinking about having three or four.”

Earlier in the year THT announced that it is to offer a range of paid-for sexual health tests and treatments by post.

THT by Post offers testing and treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, testing for HIV and treatment for genital herpes and non-specific urethritis.

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