Researchers say that white gay men in Europe are taking too many risks despite years of awareness and education campaigns.
A Belgian study, which was published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, found that young white gay men are significantly contributing to the local spread of HIV.
To try and understand why, despite increased education and awareness of HIV, the number of new infections continues to rise each year, researchers from Ghent University compared the genetic information of viruses isolated from more than 500 patients.
The patients were male and female, gay and straight, Caucasian and non-Caucasian – all who were newly diagnosed at an HIV screening clinic between 2001 and 2009. The scientists’ aim was to pinpoint factors contributing to the local spread of HIV in order to inform the development of regional prevention strategies.
“Using genetic profiling techniques we were able to group viruses into ‘clusters’ of highly related variants”, lead researcher Dr. Chris Verhofstede explained. “We … found that clustered viruses are more frequently isolated from young Caucasian men who have sex with men and who have a high prevalence of other sexually transmitted diseases”.
The fact that these men tended to also have other sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis, further suggested that they are having unprotected sex.
This finding confirms the results of other studies, they added. Verhofstede and colleagues have suggested further research into the issue to help design more targeted prevention programs focused on this group.