Unsafe Sex Common Among Those With HIV

Study finds 23% of patients still engage in the practice

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By
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 5, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Providing more evidence of the challenges facing health officials trying to stem the AIDS epidemic, a new survey reports that almost one-fourth of HIV-positive patients had unprotected sex over a three-month period.

To the consternation of AIDS activists, other studies have also shown that many men infected with the AIDS virus are not heeding calls to avoid unsafe sex. The numbers appear to have risen over the past several years as powerful drugs helped HIV patients live longer and healthier lives.

"You kind of see a creep taking place," said Lee Klosinski, director of programs at AIDS Project Los Angeles. Making things more challenging, the continued spread of HIV by infected people "is a really difficult thing for the gay community in general and the HIV community to talk about," he said.

In the new study, researchers from Yale University and colleagues surveyed 333 HIV-positive patients from 2000 to 2002 as part of an effort to examine the sexual habits of people infected with the most drug-resistant forms of the virus. All the participants were from Connecticut.

The study results appear in the Nov. 5 issue of the journal AIDS.

Twenty-three percent of the patients -- 75 people -- reported having unprotected sex over the previous three months. They had unprotected sex an estimated 1,126 times with 191 people, most of whose HIV status was negative or unknown. (Only 36 of the sexual partners apparently were HIV-positive. Medical officials and AIDS activists differ over how much of a risk it is for two HIV-positive people to have unprotected sex with each other; some say it could strengthen existing infections.)

Nearly a quarter of those who engaged in unprotected sex had forms of HIV that are resistant to some drug treatment, but they actually exposed fewer people on average to the disease.

Klosinski said it's important to note that about three-quarters of the those surveyed didn't expose anyone to HIV through unprotected sex. However, he added, other studies have suggested that the rate of unprotected anal sex among HIV-positive gay men over the previous six months -- not three months, as in this study -- has been as high as 40 percent.

"When you look at profiles of people with HIV, many -- but not all -- are more likely to be involved in a variety of potentially risky behaviors," he said. "They're more likely to smoke, more likely to not use a seat belt, more likely to not use a condom."

What are experts to do?

Researchers are looking at counseling approaches, Klosinski said. And AIDS organizations continue to develop advertising aimed at changing the behavior of HIV-positive people.

Years ago, the message was that "responsibility is evenly distributed -- everybody is responsible for themselves," including those who are uninfected, he added.

But now, he said, "we need to find a way of talking about the responsibilities that people living with HIV have to protect the community. In my mind, there's an unambiguous responsibility ... even if you don't want it, to not transmit it if you have HIV."

More information

To learn more about AIDS prevention, try Avert.org.

SOURCES: Lee Klosinski, Ph.D., director of programs, AIDS Project Los Angeles; Nov. 5, 2004, AIDS

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