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National News

Internet Linked to Some AIDS Spread

February 12, 2003

The Internet appears to be a virtual meeting place for gay men willing to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors that often lead to transmission of HIV, according to research presented at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston.

Gay men who meet sexual partners online are more likely to engage in unprotected intercourse with them than they are with partners met elsewhere, according to a survey by researchers in New York. Furthermore, those already infected with HIV are more likely to have high-risk encounters with online partners than are people who are not infected. "The Internet is a new venue associated with high-risk sex," said Sabina Hirshfield, of the Medical and Health Research Association of New York City.

The researchers last summer recruited about 3,000 visitors to the Web site to answer a 60-question survey about their sexual practices over the previous six months. Men from all 50 states were represented, 85 percent were white, and nearly 90 percent had attended college for at least a while. About 8 percent were HIV-positive. Eighty-four percent said they had met sexual partners online.

Those men were slightly more likely to report unprotected anal intercourse (64 percent) in the previous six months than men who did not meet partners online (58 percent). Significantly, however, the HIV-positive men who found partners on the Internet were more likely to report having unprotected intercourse than other men using the Internet for the same purpose.

Hirshfield told her listeners that the study suggests "it may be possible to reach high-risk [men] through Internet interventions."

Other hazardous encounters were examined in a study of HIV-positive inmates released from North Carolina prisons. David Wohl and colleagues at the University of North Carolina interviewed about 90 such inmates -- roughly half men and half women -- before they finished their prison terms, and then two months later. About half reported sexual activity soon after release, and 30 percent said it was unprotected sex with a longstanding partner who was either uninfected or whose HIV status was unknown. About one-third of the total group said they thought it was "likely" or "somewhat likely" that they would eventually infect their main partners.

Wohl speculated that prisons' main role in the AIDS epidemic was not as sites where infection was acquired, but as places from where infected people prone to risky behaviors cycled in and out of the population. Intensive prevention efforts could be directed at them, he suggested.

Back to other CDC news for February 12, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Washington Post
02.12.03; David Brown

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.