Researchers alarmed at HIV, behavior trends

The Associated Press
Saturday February 17, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Studies of HIV-infected people in Los Angeles show disturbing trends in behavior that could lead to the rapid spread of the virus that causes AIDS, researchers said. 

The sexual behavior alarmed scientists and outreach workers who gathered Friday at an annual conference on statewide AIDS research. 

Researchers hope the studies will help explain January reports of rising HIV infection rates in San Francisco as well as in Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada. 

One of the most disturbing studies involved 113 HIV-positive bisexual men in Los Angeles.  

It found that 54.5 percent failed to disclose their infection status to sex partners. Thirty-one percent reported having unprotected sex, according to the study of 113 men in Los Angeles. 

“The importance is that a number of sexual partners may not know they are at risk,” said Matt Mutchler, a researcher with AIDS Project Los Angeles. 

In another study of 53 men in Los Angeles County, 50 percent reported having had sex with an average of 28 partners in a public place during the previous six months. And 41 percent said they had unprotected sex in a public place. 

A 1997-98 study of 305 black men with HIV or AIDS found that 31 percent identified themselves as heterosexual even though they reported previously having sex with men. 

In another control group of 305 black men who were not HIV-infected, 16 percent said they were not homosexual but reported having had sex with men. 

The findings suggest that HIV prevention strategies should be widened to include that segment of black men who have complex sexual behaviors, said Amy Wohl, an HIV epidemiologist with the county Department of Health Services. 

Dr. George Lemp, director of the Universitywide AIDS Research Program, said the Los Angeles sex behavior studies show that prevention programs are not reaching HIV-infected people. 

“Prevention is either not being delivered or it’s not in high quality,” Lemp said. “They are getting the medication, but no one is helping them with the psycho-social and relationship issues. 

“There are people in care who have a lot of issues other than HIV. If you can address those issues, you may help them deal with the risk behavior.” 

Researchers said that some of the factors effecting the sexual behavior of HIV-positive people include alcohol and drug abuse, childhood sexual abuse, and the abandonment of caution in certain environments, such as bathhouses and all-night dance clubs.