EDINBURGH, Scotland — Epidemiologists have identified a subset of men who are more susceptible to contracting and spreading the HIV infection, but may be underestimating their risk. This group is comprised of men who have sex with other men, but are not open about their sexuality.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say men who comprise this segment of the population acquire HIV infection from each other, and rarely from openly gay men. Perhaps fearing being ostracized, this group rarely spends time in the same social social situations as openly gay men and are less likely to disclose that they have sex with other men. Bisexual men and non-gay-identified men comprise this group.
Members of this subset are less likely to receive sexual health warnings and messages than openly gay men, researchers say, and they don’t have the same access to healthcare resources and HIV-preventative measures that openly gay men receive.
“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,” says lead researcher Andrew Leigh Brown, professor of Biological Sciences, in a university release. “The finding shows that public health messages should be targeted specifically at this neglected group. It also shows that large-scale studies of health data can be carried out without risk to individual privacy.”
Brown and his team analyzed data from an anonymous national archive to identify different behavioral subsets and HIV infection rates. The team also examined the genetic code of virus samples from 60,000 HIV-positive individuals in the United Kingdom. HIV changes its genetic code over time as it infects more people, so the researchers could find people who had similar strains of the virus and create networks of infections to find patterns that give them a clue as to how the virus spread among the subjects.
Previous research showed that six percent of men who claimed to be heterosexual when diagnosed with HIV were infected via sex with other men.
The study was published in the journal The Lancet HIV.