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HIV Testing, Safe Sex Still Uncommon Among Young Gay and Bisexual Men

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Nov. 16, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Young gay or bisexual men at high risk for contracting HIV -- human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS -- continue to engage in unsafe sexual practices and often avoid HIV testing, according two recent surveys.

Presented during the 1999 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, the surveys showed that the risk of contracting HIV is still high among young men who have sex with men. But those who know their HIV status -- and especially those who are HIV-positive -- are more likely to avoid risky sexual behavior than those who haven't been tested, the researchers found.

The findings highlight the importance of early HIV testing and counseling, the researchers tell WebMD.

"This [study] underscores the importance of [patients] knowing their [HIV] status and their partners' status," says Paul Denning, MD, MPH, who conducted one of the studies. "Testing can have a dramatic impact on patients' behavior. ... [And] it's important to get people into care, because it can have a dramatic impact on quality of life." Denning is with the CDC's HIV/AIDS Surveillance Branch. His survey was conducted in 12 U.S. cities and included nearly 1,500 people aged 18 to 29 who had been recently diagnosed with either HIV or AIDS.

In the second survey, involving almost 3,500 men between the ages of 15 and 22, HIV counseling and testing were included. The researchers found that while 7% of survey respondents actually had HIV, 35% had not been tested before. The seven-city survey produced some surprising results, researcher Linda Valleroy, PhD, tells WebMD -- namely that HIV infection rates are almost as high in many other large cities as they are in San Francisco. "The CDC ... found the prevalence [of HIV in San Francisco] to be 9%. When we started we were hoping that San Francisco was a fluke," Valleroy says. "But it wasn't, because we got numbers like San Francisco in these seven cities across the country, where HIV prevalence ranged from 2% to 12%." Valleroy is an anthropologist and epidemiologist with the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

Valleroy and fellow researchers found that the young men who hadn't been tested for HIV prior to the survey cited three main reasons: a perceived low risk (44%), fear of the test result (38%), and fear of needles (18%).

The CDC has begun new research to determine the best approach for launching a media campaign to promote HIV testing, says Denning.

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