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6 December 2007
Condom Usage Not Telling Whole Story On HIV Risk
by George Atkinson

Condom usage statistics aren't telling the whole story about safe sex practices amongst HIV-positive men, suggests a new study from the University of California - San Francisco's Center for AIDS Prevention Studies.

The new study shows a dramatic shift by men infected with HIV to choose to have unprotected intercourse only with other HIV-infected partners. "If all you are doing is counting condom usage, you are missing a powerful risk reduction strategy that is actually taking place," noted study author Wayne Steward.

"While the findings showed condom use was up and the number of partners was down, the most startling effect was seen in men choosing to have unprotected intercourse almost exclusively with other HIV-infected individuals.

This reflects a systematic shift by men, most of whom are gay, following HIV infection to behaviors that protect their sex partners," Steward explained.

Prior to HIV infection, the men in the study had unprotected intercourse acts with HIV-negative or HIV-unknown partners almost 75 percent of the time. Following diagnosis with acute HIV infection, however, they sharply altered their behavior to having unprotected anal or vaginal intercourse 97 percent of the time with other HIV-infected individuals. Acute infection is the one-month period immediately following HIV infection when individuals tend to have the highest levels of HIV circulating in their blood, making them much more likely to infect a partner with HIV during unprotected intercourse.

Steward said the study highlighted the importance of identifying acute or recent HIV infections, so that this partner selection strategy could be implemented at the critical juncture when individuals are most infectious.

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Source: University of California - San Francisco

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