HIV study reveals new group of men at risk of infection

June 4, 2018, University of Edinburgh
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A group of men who may be underestimating their HIV risk has been identified in a new study.

Public messages should be targeted specifically at this neglected group, suggest researchers who carried out the work.

The men are a distinct group who have sex with other men, but are not open about their sexuality.

They tend to mix with, and acquire infection from, each other and not from openly gay men.

They are unlikely to mix in the same social venues as openly gay men and are not likely to disclose that they have sex with other men.

Fear of stigmatisation, rejection or prejudice can stop this group, who include bisexual and non-gay-identified men, from disclosing their sexuality.

They are less likely to receive prevention messages and access the same healthcare as others and as a result may be less aware of their HIV risk.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh used a national archive of anonymous data to study patterns of HIV transmission.

They analysed the genetic code of from more than 60,000 HIV-positive people in the UK.

Because the genetic information of the changes rapidly over time, by finding people whose virus was more similar, scientists were able to create networks of linked infections to see how the virus had spread.

Earlier work from the same group suggested that 6 per cent of men who claimed to be heterosexual at the time of diagnosis had actually become infected through sex with men, not women.

This study found that the group of men identified tend to have fewer sex partners and prefer to partner with each other—behaviour that may lead to them underestimating their risk.

There is little evidence of them spreading the infection to openly gay men or heterosexual women.

HIV attacks the body's immune system and, left untreated, makes it difficult fight infections.

Early diagnosis and access to effective treatments allow a near normal and healthy life and prevent onward transmission.

Men who have sex with men are the group most at risk from HIV and account for half of those living with the virus in the UK, but they tend to be diagnosed and receive treatment at earlier stages of the disease.

In contrast, heterosexual males remain the group least likely to visit sexual health clinics and are often diagnosed late, when their immune system has already been damaged.

The study, published in The Lancet HIV, was funded by the United States National Institutes of Health.

Professor Andrew Leigh Brown, of the School of Biological Sciences, who led the research, said: "Nondisclosed men who have sex with men are more likely to be infected by each other than by openly gay men, and less likely to be aware of their risk. The finding shows that public health messages should be targeted specifically at this neglected . It also shows that large-scale studies of health data can be carried out without risk to individual privacy."

Explore further: Dengue virus transmission dominated by those with undetected infection, study finds

Related Stories

Dengue virus transmission dominated by those with undetected infection, study finds

May 4, 2018
People showing virtually no symptoms are likely the primary source of dengue fever, according to new research published in PLOS Pathogens. Nearly 400 million people each year are infected with dengue virus, which is transmitted ...

Lesbian, bisexual women may be more likely to develop diabetes due to stress

May 9, 2018
In a newly published study involving 94,250 women across the United States, researchers found that lesbian and bisexual (LB) women were more likely than heterosexual women to develop type 2 diabetes during the course of the ...

In US, people with HIV often go 3 yrs without knowing

November 28, 2017
People who are infected with HIV in the United States often go for years without being diagnosed, with the median, or midpoint, being three years, according to US government data Tuesday.

War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

January 15, 2018
Conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of HIV outbreaks throughout the country as displaced HIV-infected people move from war-affected regions to areas with higher risk of transmission, according to analysis by scientists.

Largest HIV transmission study conducted

July 12, 2016
A new study has found that neither gay men nor heterosexual people with HIV transmit the virus to their partner, provided they are on suppressive antiretroviral treatment.

Swaziland halves world's highest HIV infection rate: report

July 24, 2017
Swaziland, which bears the world's heaviest HIV burden, has almost halved the rate of new infections in five years by boosting access to virus-suppressing drugs, researchers said Monday.

Recommended for you

Researchers unravel why people with HIV suffer from more neurologic diseases

August 20, 2018
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which the HIV virus can cause, continue to be one of the world's greatest health problems.

New HIV therapy reduces virus, boosts immunity in drug-resistant patients

August 15, 2018
In a study, a new HIV drug reduced viral replication and increased immune cells in individuals with advanced, drug-resistant HIV infection. Used in combination with existing HIV medications, the drug is a promising strategy ...

In choosing care, HIV patients in Zambia prefer kindness over convenience

August 15, 2018
As a healthcare patient, what would you sacrifice for a provider with a nice—rather than rude—attitude? For HIV patients in Zambia, the answer may surprise you.

Details of HIV-1 structure open door for potential therapies

August 9, 2018
New research provides details of how the structure of the HIV-1 virus is assembled, findings that offer potential new targets for treatment.

Researchers uncover potential new drug targets in the fight against HIV

August 7, 2018
Johns Hopkins scientists report they have identified two potential new drug targets for the treatment of HIV. The finding is from results of a small, preliminary study of 19 people infected with both HIV—the virus that ...

Naltrexone helps HIV positive individuals reduce heavy alcohol use

August 7, 2018
Extended-release naltrexone—an injection that decreases heavy drinking in the general population when taken in conjunction with counseling—appears to help HIV-positive individuals reduce their number of heavy drinking ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.