September 11, 2010

September 11, 2010
St. Pete AIDS Walk

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Saturday and I hope your weekend is off to a safe and great start. Dab the AIDS Bear and I are in Saint Petersburg, Florida for their AIDS Walk this weekend. So stay tuned for upcoming pictures and slide shows from the event.

Last evening, I went to dinner with two old friends who live in St. Petersburg and work for the local AIDS Service Organization. It is always great seeing Robyn and Fran. We bonded originally through Facebook and have become close friends over the past few years. This is the second year Dab the AIDS Bear and I have come down to help with their AIDS Walk.

Now you have read in my blog about the new rise in exposures of HIV in MSM. Well I just read an article about the same problem in Europe. Seems like gay men in America are not the only ones who have forgotten what the early days of living with HIV and AIDS were like.

The HIV epidemic in Europe, including the UK, is being fueled by the risky behavior of young gay men, according to research published today.

Public messages and campaigns about the dangers of unsafe sex do not appear to be getting through to men who have sex with men, the researchers say particularly the young ones.

By investigating the genetic profile of the virus in more than 500 newly screened patients over nine years, scientists in Belgium have identified clusters of people with type B virus not the one that is most prevalent in Africa.

Those infected are almost all white, male, gay and young, they say. These men also tend to have other sexual diseases, such as syphilis, which suggests that they are involved in unsafe sexual behavior and are not using condoms.

The research was carried out by scientists at Ghent University in Belgium, and there is every indication that their findings hold true for the UK. Nick Partridge, the chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that gay men were the group most at risk of HIV infection in the UK.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA), which monitors HIV numbers in the UK, warns every year of the rising rate of infections among men who have sex with men (MSM). In its last full report, for 2009, it said that the rate of infection among gay men remained high, even though there had been a slight overall drop.

HIV infection can go unnoticed for years, but the HPA report said one in five of those diagnosed had become infected within the previous six months suggesting recent risky behavior was to blame.

A 2008 report specifically on HIV among men who have sex with men said there were around 32,000 living with HIV in the UK. Just under half of all new diagnoses were among men who had sex with men, and 82% of the infections were probably acquired within the UK.

The Belgian researchers, Kristen Chalmet and colleagues from the Aids Reference Laboratory at Ghent University, found one "striking and alarming" cluster of cases. Over the nine years of the study, 57 men acquired genetically very similar viruses, they say. Eight of them did so in the last year. "Members of this cluster are significantly younger than the rest of the population and have more chlamydia and syphilis infections," they write today, in the open access journal BioMed Central Infectious Diseases.

Even excluding that group from the study, there was still a relationship between HIV infection and contracting syphilis, which suggested risky sexual behavior.

The study found two main types of HIV, but their analysis found that those infected with the two sub-types were "significantly different populations". The vast majority of cases of infection within Belgium were sub-type B cases, and those infected were most often men who have sex with men. The non-B cases were more likely to be in heterosexuals and to have been acquired abroad.

"We clearly demonstrate that, despite the existence of prevention programmes, easily available testing facilities and a supposedly broad public awareness of the infection and its possible routes of transmission, MSM still account for the majority of local onward transmissions," they write.

"Continuous efforts to sustain prevention programmes targeting MSM are definitely needed."

Nick Partridge echoed the call for targeted campaigns. "Gay men are still the most at risk of HIV infection in the UK. We also know that more than a quarter of people with HIV in the UK are currently undiagnosed, and they're far more likely to pass the virus on than those who know they have it." "Targeted HIV prevention programmes are key to reducing the numbers of new infections each year. But we'd also argue for innovative testing services to better diagnose men who've been at most risk."

Professor Pat Cane, head of the HPA's antiviral unit, said work done in the UK with the Medical Research Council, "has shown that there are two predominant sources of HIV circulating in the UK at the moment one in men who have sex with men (HIV1, sub-type B) and the other associated with sub-Saharan Africa (non B, HIV1)."

So Dab the AIDS Bear and I still have a ton of work getting the message out to gay men not only in the US but also in Europe. Wish us luck, it looks like it is going to be a very busy year for us.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab