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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 10, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 37
Young Gay men fueling HIV epidemic
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Young Gay men fueling HIV epidemic

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The HIV epidemic in Europe - largely in the UK - is being fueled by the risky behavior of a subset of the Gay community: young white males.

Research published in the open access journal BMC Infectious Diseases has found that public messages and campaigns about the dangers of unsafe sex do not appear to be getting through to these men.

To try and understand this phenomenon, researchers from Ghent University in Belgium compared the genetic information of viruses isolated from more than 500 patients - male and female, Gay and straight, Caucasian and non-Caucasian - who were newly diagnosed at an HIV screening clinic between 2001 and 2009. Their aim was to pinpoint factors contributing to the local spread of HIV in order to inform the development of regional prevention strategies.

"Using genetic profiling techniques we were able to group viruses into 'clusters' of highly related variants," said lead researcher Dr. Chris Verhofstede. "Clusters of viruses are indicative for the local onward transmission of this particular viral strain. We defined more and larger clusters amongst HIV subtype B viruses compared to the non-B viruses."

Type B virus is not the cluster that is most prevalent in Africa, a continent that has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Those infected, Verhofstede and his researchers found, are almost all white, male, Gay, and young. The men also tend to have other sexual diseases, such as syphilis, which suggests that they are involved in unsafe sexual behavior and are not using condoms.

The Health Protection Agency, which monitors HIV numbers in the UK, warns every year of the rising rate of infections among men who have sex with men. In 2009, the Health Protection Agency said that the rate of infection among Gay men remained high, even though there had been a slight overall drop.

While it may be true that HIV infection can go unnoticed for years, the Health Protection Agency report states that one in five of those diagnosed had become infected within the previous six months - suggesting risky sexual behavior.

The report concludes, "We clearly demonstrate that, despite the existence of prevention programs, easily available testing facilities and a supposedly broad public awareness of the infection and its possible routes of transmission, men who have sex with men account for a majority of local onward transmissions. Continuous efforts to sustain preventing programming targeting men who have sex with men are definitely needed."

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