Many HIV-Positive Gay Men Unaware They're Infected
April 27, 2005
A new study found that of approximately 5,600 gay and bisexual men ages 15-29, more than three-quarters of those testing HIV-positive were unaware they were infected. In fact, before testing, a majority of the infected men believed they were at low HIV risk even though half reported having unprotected sex with another man in the previous six months. Such findings suggest the epidemic "continues unabated" among gay and bisexual men, partly because many are unaware of their infection, said authors.
The high rates of unknown HIV infection, in turn, reflect that many gay and bisexual men were not testing regularly for the virus, said lead author Duncan A. MacKellar of CDC. While many of the men did test, few did so regularly, and only a minority of the newly diagnosed men had tested within the previous year. The reasons why are unclear but may reflect the men's perception that they were at low risk for HIV, he said. Limited health care access and fear of testing positive might also be contributing factors, MacKellar said study findings suggested.
Current guidelines recommend that people at risk of HIV be tested for it and other STDs at least once a year.
The men were from six U.S. cities, recruited for the survey through various venues, including bars, parks, cafes, and shops. A total of 10 percent tested HIV-positive, of whom 77 percent were unaware they were infected. Due to the recruitment method, the figures are probably unrepresentative of U.S. gay and bisexual men. Prior household-based research found lower rates of unrecognized infection.
Nonetheless, the fact that so many of the men did not know they had HIV "underscores the urgency" of increasing HIV testing among young men who have sex with men, said MacKellar.
Study authors recommended expanding rapid HIV testing at venues such as bars and clubs to reach men with undiagnosed HIV infection. In addition, it is key that individual doctors routinely recommend HIV testing to at-risk patients, said MacKellar. "CDC is working with providers to make HIV testing a more routine part of health care," he said.
The full report, "Unrecognized HIV Infection, Risk Behaviors, and Perceptions of Risk Among Young Men Who Have Sex with Men," was published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (2005;38(5):603-614).
04.26.05; Amy Norton
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.