A growing number of gay and bisexual men in the United States are engaging in risky sex with partners they meet on the Internet, raising fears that the AIDS virus could be poised for a major comeback in the group hardest hit by the epidemic.
Online chatrooms and Web sites are replacing gay bathhouses and sex clubs as the most popular meeting point to arrange high-risk sex, according to two new studies presented at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference. The findings come amid growing evidence of an apparent resurgence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as syphilis in men who have sex with men. The presence of sexually transmitted diseases is known to facilitate the spread of HIV. New HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men have jumped more than 17 percent since 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Some 850,000 to 950,000 Americans have the AIDS virus and approximately 16,000 die from the disease each year.
In one survey by the California Department of Health Services, 23 percent of gay and bisexual men infected with syphilis admitted meeting sexual partners on the Internet, compared to 21 percent who had done so in bathhouses. To practically no one's surprise, researchers noted that men who met partners online, in bathhouses, or at sex clubs tended to have more sexual encounters than those who did not.
A study by the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California in San Francisco found that 39 percent of gay and bisexual males interviewed online admitted having unprotected anal sex with someone they had met on the Internet in the previous two months. Eleven percent of these respondents were HIV-positive.
Despite the sobering data, there were some signs the Internet could be used as a tool for delivering HIV prevention and safe sex messages. AIDS experts reported success raising HIV and STD prevention with gay and bisexual males online through the use of banner ads, one-on-one outreach sessions and discussions in chat rooms on Web sites.
Source: CNN.com .
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