LONDON — Men who have sex with men but are not open about their sexuality are underestimating their risk of contracting HIV, researchers report in a new study published in the June issue of the Lancet HIV and reported on by the Times of London.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have said that public health messages should be targeted specifically at this “neglected” group. A study found that the men tended to mix with, and acquire infection from, each other and not from openly gay men. Potentially fearful of stigmatization or prejudice, 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, the Times reports.
The men are thought to be less likely to receive prevention messages and are therefore less aware of their HIV risk.
Researchers at the university used a national archive of anonymous data to study patterns of HIV transmission and they analyzed the genetic code of virus samples from more than 60,000 HIV-positive people in the U.K. Scientists were able to create networks of linked infections to see how the virus had spread, the Times reports.
Earlier work from the same group suggested that 6 percent of men who claimed to be straight at the time of diagnosis had become infected through sex with men.
The new study found that the group of men identified tended to have fewer sex partners and preferred to partner with each other — behavior that could lead to them underestimating their risk, researchers said. Little evidence was found of them spreading the infection to openly gay men or straight women, the Times reports.