Researchers have again found a link between the use of poppers and an increased risk of HIV infection among gay men.

In a study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, the scientist looked at various factors associated with HIV infection among 75 gay men in London, Brighton and Manchester during 2002 and 2004.

Unsurprisingly the study found that unprotected anal intercourse remains the primary risk activity for HIV transmission amongst gay men, with increased risk associated with being the receptive partner and receiving ejaculate.

They also found the use of nitrite inhalants, widely known as poppers, during unprotected sex “may be an important facilitator of transmission.” The researchers recommended that reducing the use of poppers be made part of HIV prevention campaigns targeted at gay men.

The study suggests two possible causes for the poppers-related risk increase:

The first is that inhaling nitrites tends to lead to rougher and longer-lasting intercourse, which in turns can result in bleeding and tears in the anal passage. Additionally, the researchers say that poppers may suppress immune function and increases the uptake of body fluids.

Inhaling nitrites relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the sphincter muscles of the anus. It also causes blood vessels to dilate, increases heart rate, and produces a sensation of heat and excitement that usually lasts for a few minutes.

Poppers have long been the subject of investigation in terms of their link to HIV infection among gay men – especially in the US – with a handful of discredited AIDS denialists actually claiming that their use is the real cause of AIDS in the West.

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