A new study suggests that many Florida men are still having unprotected sex despite telling their partners they're HIV positive.
Researchers from the University of Central Florida and University of Florida analyzed data collected by the Florida Department of Health HIV Surveillance Program. They determined that men who told partners they were HIV positive were three times more likely to have sex without a condom.
The program is a partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which surveys and monitors respondents who are living with HIV/AIDS and are receiving care.
The researchers looked at data from Florida from the years 2009 to 2013, the most current data available. In particular, they were looking for men who were sexually active in the year previous to responding to the survey, had two or more sexual partners, and had not been newly diagnosed within the past year of answering the survey. The final sample collected data from 376 men.
Christa Cook, an associate professor at UCF’s College of Nursing and the lead author, said more research is needed to find out why those HIV postive men were more likely to have unprotected sex.
“Does disclosure lead to safer sex? And if it does, how is the best way to deliver it? And if it doesn’t, then what does?" she said.
Cook added that some of these men could have a suppressed viral load through antiretroviral therapy, which may reduce the chances of HIV transmission, or their partners could be taking pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent.
The data provided by the Department of Health didn’t include this information.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has the second-highest rate of new HIV infection diagnoses in the nation.
"You'd think people would avoid putting themselves at risk, but in all actuality in my study, they didn't,” said Cook.
The study, which appeared recently in the journal PLOS One and was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health, also found that 45 percent of the men surveyed either inconsistently disclosed or did not disclose their HIV status to their partners, possibly because of stigma.
They also found that counseling patients about preventing the spread of HIV did not seem to be related to disclosing HIV status to their partners.
Cook said she hopes this study encourages more honest conversation about HIV to break the stigma, and gives health care professionlas insight into improving HIV prevention counselling.