40% of UK Gay Men Unaware of HIV Infection

A survey conducted by MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit among gay men in cities across the United Kingdom has revealed that most of them with undiagnosed HIV infection assumed they were free from the virus. Most of them were previously tested negative and thought they were clear from HIV. This raises fears that these could unknowingly be putting others at risk. The Glasgow-based research firm published their findings over at the journal AIDS.

Among 3,500 gay men who were questioned for this survey, nine percent were tested HIV-positive after giving their oral fluid samples for anonymous testing. However, just under half of them did not realize they are infected with HIV. It was also found out that risky sexual behavior was more common among men who were aware of their HIV-positive status than among those who were undiagnosed or HIV-negative; even more so among those who have been diagnosed with the virus the longest.

Dr. Lisa Williamson, head of the research team, says that the study shows "a clear need for a reinvigorated and targeted approach to HIV prevention among gay men in the UK."

"We need to promote condom use and risk reduction strategies even in men who are regularly tested. The results suggest that reducing the number of gay men with undiagnosed HIV infection may not in itself be enough to reduce new infections among gay men," she added. She also suggests that GUM clinics should offer HIV testing and risk reduction active among all gay men as well as offering repeat testing at men who are found to be HIV-negative but have high risk behaviors.

"Maintaining safe sex practices long-term may be what men are finding difficult," Dr. Williamson states. "Although some men could be taking steps to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, on in three men with diagnosed HIV reported having unprotected anal sex with a partner whose HIV status was unknown or different to their own."

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

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