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Study: Drug advances propel unsafe sex
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Wednesday February 27 07:50 PM EST
Study: Drug advances propel unsafe sex
Study: Drug advances propel unsafe sexBy Randy Dotinga, Gay.com / PlanetOut.com Network
Powerful AIDS drugs are making the world safe for unsafe sex in the minds of gay men, according a new survey from San Francisco.
Nearly half of 3,300 gay men surveyed in 1999 reported having unprotected anal sex with more than one partner, compared to 24 percent just five years earlier. At the same time, more men appear to be getting infected with HIV (news - web sites).
"The increase in unsafe behavior has overwhelmed the beneficial effect of treatment," said study co-author Dr. Mitch Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health (news - web sites).
Katz and his colleagues reviewed several surveys of gay men in San Francisco and reported their findings in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The authors say their study is the first to examine how the amazing success of AIDS drugs is affecting infection rates among gay males.
In 1995, only four percent of people with AIDS in San Francisco were on the so-called "cocktail" treatment. The number grew to 54 percent by 1999, according to the study. The AIDS drugs often shrink the level of virus in the blood to zero, making people less infectious. (The virus remains in the body, however.)
Despite the rise in advanced treatment, infection rate did not drop over time. The percentage of men who tested positive for HIV at anonymous testing sites rose from 2.1 percent in 1996 to 4.2 percent in 1999. The rates stayed steady at about 5.2 percent at sexually transmitted disease clinics.
Katz attributes the infection rates to unsafe sex.
Meanwhile, at least one other sexually transmitted disease is on the rise. According to the study, the number of cases of rectal gonorrhea in the city rose from 72 in 1994 to 160 in 1999. The disease generally hits "bottoms" -- men who are on the receiving end of anal sex.
Stephen Gibson, program director of the San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project, said the number of gay men having unsafe sex is probably leveling off.
His organization has launched education projects to reach HIV-positive gay men and black men who are "on the down-low" -- those who consider themselves straight but have sex with gay men. The new program, in fact, is called "D.L."
Gibson called for more education of gay men about the true risks they face. Contrary to popular belief, HIV is not transmitted only from tops to bottoms, he said.
"A lot of people think that if I'm HIV-negative and a top, I'm less likely to get infected than a bottom. And bottoms perceive that if I'm HIV-positive I'm less likely to infect someone than if I'm a top. Those are both true, but it's not the whole story."
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