An alarming increase in high-risk sexual behavior among young gay men, once thought to be restricted largely to San Francisco, is spreading rapidly throughout North America and Europe, researchers said Monday at the 11th International Conference on AIDS.
Gay men are the group most at risk of HIV infection in industrialized countries and account for just under half of all new HIV infections in the United States, and the increases threaten to reverse hard-won gains made by AIDS prevention efforts, experts said. And the risk is especially high among young black and Latino men, which have recently shown the greatest increase in infection rates.
“Young gay males have not seen their friends and lovers die of AIDS, which is a powerful stimulus to behavioral change, and are not taking precautions,” said Dr. Michael Rekart of the University of British Columbia.
Canadian researchers found that gay men who had been abused as children were twice as likely to engage in high-risk activity as those who had not been abused. “These results suggest that sexual-abuse counseling should be integrated into HIV prevention efforts,” said Dr. Steffanie Strathdee of the University of British Columbia.
Studies in San Francisco have shown that young gay men are two to three times more likely to be HIV-positive than those older than 30. Typically, about a quarter of them had engaged in unprotected anal sex in the year before the surveys. Now, however, similar results are being found elsewhere.
Epidemiologist Linda Valleroy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to report today on a new study from six urban areas, including Dade County in Florida, Dallas County in Texas and Los Angeles. She found that 7 percent of gay men between the ages of 15 and 22 were HIV-positive and that 39 percent had unprotected anal sex in the previous six months.
Similar results were found independently in studies in Pittsburgh, Boston, Vancouver and Amsterdam, Netherlands, said psychologist John de Wit of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. But the trend can be reversed, researchers say.
Dr. Susan M. Kegeles of the University of California, San Francisco, is expected to report Wednesday on the success of intervention measures in three small West Coast communities. The Mpowerment project included the creating of a young gay men’s community center run by gay males. Its program involved informal outreach efforts among friends, formal outreach at social events and small-group intervention.
After six months, the researchers reported a 32 percent drop in high-risk behavior.