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Intentional transmission (BUG CHASERS, GIFT GIVERS)
Jan 11, 2008

Dr Bob

I saw a progam on the BBC that said that some people were deliberately trying to infect themselves with HIV and that there are those who are happy to oblige ("gift givers"). I've heard about this before (see Queer as Folk).

I don't get it. Despite advances in medicine, HIV is still a very nasty bug and treatment often has tough side-effects.

Can you explain? If I ever meet anyone who actually says they WANT HIV, how do I respond to them? How do I tell them they need help not infection?

Signed: A poz guy who thinks he should keep it to himself.

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello,

I haven't heard much about the bug-chasing/gift-giving phenomenon since 2003 when Rolling Stone magazine printed a poorly researched and quite incendiary article titled "Bug Chasers: The Men Who Long to Be HIV+." The article provoked a storm of controversy. Subsequently the reliability of the piece was found to be, well, unreliable!

I do remember the Queer as Folk episode well. The bug-chaser in that episode stated his motivation for wanting to be infected was to become "free." In other words he wanted to be rid of the constant worry of contracting AIDS. I haven't seen the BBC program yet. However, what I can tell you is that the entire bug-chaser/gift-giver phenomenon is more Internet fantasy than real life activity. This has been documented in several studies. That said, I don't doubt that there are indeed a small number of psychologically impaired folks out there who could want to be infected. I would imagine these guys to be lonely and alienated. They might see HIV as a path to becoming part of a community that elicits public sympathy and caretaking. Others may be more like the QAF character who is so overwhelmed by the anxiety of possibly contracting HIV he feels it would be a relief to become infected.

At any rate the real story about "bug chasing" and "gift giving" is that it's more urban legend than tragic reality.

Dr. Bob



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