United Kingdom: A Third of HIV-Positive Gay Men Ignorant of Their Infection

A new scientific study suggests that one-third of UK gay males with HIV do not know they are infected.

Researchers from the Royal Free and University College Medical School questioned more than 8,000 gay men in London bars, clubs and saunas between 1996 and 2000. In 2000, they gathered anonymous saliva samples from 1,206 men to test for HIV. Of the samples, 10.9 percent were positive for HIV. One-third of these cases had not been diagnosed. Of men who said they knew their HIV status, 4 percent were wrong about it.

In 1996, about one in three men (30 percent) said they had had unprotected sex in the previous 12 months. This figure rose to more than four in 10 (42 percent) by 2000. "A high proportion of HIV saliva antibody positive men continue to engage in high-risk sexual behavior after diagnosis, emphasising the need for focused health promotion programmes to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to others," the researchers wrote.

Forty-five percent of men having unprotected anal sex said they did so only with partners of the same HIV status. However, the researchers raised concerns that 16 percent of men reporting this were either incorrect about their diagnosis or could not be completely certain about it: They either had never tested, reported their status incorrectly, or did not know their status.

"High levels of unprotected anal intercourse continue to be reported by both HIV saliva antibody positive and negative men and the potential for onward transmission of HIV and increasing prevalence is a major public health concern," the researchers concluded.

The full report, "Increasing Risk Behaviour and High Levels of Undiagnosed HIV Infection in a Community Sample of Homosexual Men," was published in Sexually Transmitted Infections (2004;80:236-240).