Study Looks at Risk Factors for HIV in U.S. Navy and Marines During "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Researchers led by Shilpa Hakre DrPH, MPH, of the US Military HIV Research Program, Rockville, Maryland, found that same-sex partners and inconsistent condom use were some of the major risk factors for HIV infection among US Navy and Marines during the era of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). The study found that male-to-male sexual contact was a much more common mode of infection than previously reported. From 2005–2010, the researchers conducted an anonymous online survey of newly diagnosed HIV-infected US Navy and Marine personnel during the period of DADT. Of the 250 HIV-infected sailors and marines surveyed, 64 responded.

The most frequent risk factor reported by 84 percent of respondents was same-sex contact. Fifty-five percent reported only having male sex partners in the three years before being infected. About half had concurrent relationships with different partners. Sex with non-service members seemed to be another risk factor for HIV infection. Most of the HIV-infected respondents reported using condoms rarely or inconsistently, and practiced other risky sexual behaviors, including meeting new casual or temporary partners at bars, clubs, or on the Internet. Alcohol use also appeared to contribute to risky behaviors.

More than 75 percent of the respondents were surprised at testing positive; many reported low condom use because they knew or trusted their partner and the partner's HIV status. They underestimated their risk of acquiring the disease. Men who had sex with men accounted for most of the new cases of HIV, and the survey showed a higher rate of male-to-male sexual contact than in previous studies. The researchers note that the findings help clarify the risk factors for military personnel with HIV and provide opportunities for prevention efforts, particularly in promoting condom use and targeting social outlets such as Internet networking.

The study titled, "A Pilot Online Survey Assessing Risk Factors for HIV Acquisition in the Navy and Marine Corps, 2005–2010", was published in the journal, Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS):(2012; 61 (2): 125–130).