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60% of gay men incorrectly believe there are no symptoms of early HIV infection

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

NAT, in partnership with Gaydar, has today launched a research report ‘Primary HIV Infection: knowledge amongst gay men’. The research*, the first of its kind and conducted amongst more than 8,000 gay men, reveals 60% incorrectly believe there are no symptoms of recent (clinically referred to as ‘primary’) HIV infection. 

In fact, between 70-90% of people experience symptoms soon after HIV infection but fewer than one in 10 respondents were aware of this. This lack of knowledge within one of the UK’s key risk communities is extremely worrying as spotting the signs of recent HIV infection presents one of the best opportunities to get diagnosed early. Ignorance of these facts increases the risk to your own health and to the health of your sexual partners.
 
New research findings from Imperial College London (the SPARTAC study**) announced at the International AIDS Society Conference suggest there could be life-long health benefits for people with HIV if they undertake a period (48 weeks) of anti-HIV treatment during the very early stage of HIV infection. This reinforces the need to diagnose people with HIV as early as possible. 
 
The most common symptoms to occur after HIV infection are a combination of sore throat, rash and fever. When respondents were asked which group of three symptoms (occurring all together) are most commonly experienced soon after HIV infection, the majority did not correctly identify the ‘triad’ of sore throat, rash and fever (34%). The most common group of symptoms selected was fatigue, loss of appetite and night sweats (44%).
 
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments:
 
‘This report looking into knowledge of primary HIV infection amongst gay men is a vital piece of research, providing us with robust evidence that intense education around recent HIV infection must take place within communities most at risk, such as gay men. Such a high proportion of gay men incorrectly believing there are no symptoms of HIV is not only extremely worrying, it also means there are huge opportunities being missed to diagnose HIV early. Whilst routine testing will always be extremely important, we must ensure we are maximising all chances to diagnose HIV as soon as possible and spotting the early signs is a big part of this. Early HIV diagnosis has significant benefits to both individual and public health. Not only does it reduce the risk of serious HIV-related illnesses, new research has shown it could have huge life-long benefits. Early diagnosis also makes it less likely a person will pass HIV on to others as they’ll be aware of the necessary steps to prevent this occurring.’
 
When asked what action a person would take if faced with the most common symptoms of early HIV infection, the most popular choice for respondents was to make an appointment with their GP (31%). This demonstrates the vital role GPs have to play in ensuring HIV is diagnosed early. The second most popular course of action was to wait and see if the symptoms go away (28%). This is extremely concerning as these early symptoms do go away and a person would usually remain without symptoms until their immune system is severely compromised. 
 
Despite a clear lack of knowledge around the indicators of early HIV infection, encouragingly, nearly two thirds of respondents (65%) were aware that someone with HIV will be highly infectious in the first few weeks after infection. This suggests that if knowledge of HIV symptoms were improved amongst gay men, they would be likely to take the necessary action to reduce the risk of passing it on to others.
 
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments:
 
‘In order to increase awareness of the signs of early HIV among gay men, it is crucial we also increase knowledge of primary HIV infection amongst GPs. This research shows visiting a GP would be the most common course of action taken if HIV symptoms were experienced so we must ensure that GPs are giving the correct advice in referring patients for an HIV test, as well as being comfortable talking about the possibility of HIV infection. 
 
‘It should also be noted that whilst it is extremely important to increase knowledge of early HIV infection, it should not be forgotten that 10-30% of people will not experience any symptoms. If you know you have put yourself at risk, it is always best to get tested as soon as possible rather than wait, as symptoms vary and are not experienced by everyone.’

 
Simon Johnson, Product Manager at Gaydar, comments:
 
'We are delighted our members completed this survey in their thousands. The research not only provided really useful evidence but will also help us raise awareness of the early symptoms of HIV and the importance of testing. Gaydar will be working with NAT (National AIDS Trust) to educate and arm our members with the information they need to recognise the symptoms of early HIV infection and to protect their own, and their partners', health. We hope these campaigns across Gaydar and GaydarRadio will empower our members, positive or negative, to lead healthy and happy sex lives.’
 
- Ends -


Notes to the editor:

*The full report ‘Primary HIV Infection: knowledge amongst gay men’can be downloaded here.

The survey was conducted online via the Gaydar membership, between 31 March and 6 April 2011. Gaydar membership has been recognised as a representative and robust sample of gay men in relation to social and demographic characteristics. 8,561 people responded to the
survey.
 
76% of respondents had had an HIV test, and 16% of respondents were HIV positive. The proportion of HIV positive respondents is higher than the average for the population group; however the proportion who had had an HIV test is similar to other research in this area, including the Gay Men’s Sex Survey.
 
**Further information on the SPARTAC study can be found here.
 
For further information please contact:
Charli Scouller
Communications Manager
NAT
020 7814 6733
press@nat.org.uk
 
NAT
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