AIDS Drugs May Be Fueling Risky Behavior
ATLANTA -- The drug cocktails that have revolutionized AIDS treatment in the United States have had a disturbing side effect -- making some gay men more willing to engage in risky sex, researchers said yesterday.
A study presented at the National HIV Prevention Conference showed gay men were less likely to use condoms or abstain from anal sex if they felt confident that AIDS drugs could prolong their lives or even prevent infections.
"Clearly many Americans equate improved treatments with a cure, which they are not," said Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the center for HIV and STD prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There has been mounting evidence in the late 1990s of increases in risky sexual behavior among gay men -- who comprise an estimated 450,000 cases of HIV, or more than half the U.S. total.
But the University of Southern California study released yesterday is among the first to link the success of AIDS drugs to increasingly cavalier attitudes about safe sex.
"There's been this rumor that we've been hearing about increases in unprotected sex," said Sheila Murphy, a psychologist and one of the researchers. "But this is kind of the first wave of actual data that shows things like the number of sexual partners increasing as a function of this sort of optimism."
Researchers surveyed 410 gay men who were approached on the streets of West Hollywood, Calif., and said they were aware of the AIDS drugs called protease inhibitors, which can reduce the level of the virus in the blood so low that it can't be measured.
Of the 346 who did not have HIV, those who were more confident about the ability of drugs to control AIDS said they used condoms 74 percent of the time during anal sex. Those who were less confident said they used condoms 85 percent of the time.
Of the 64 who were HIV-positive, those who were optimistic about the drugs used condoms 66 percent of the time, compared with 85 percent condom use for those who believed the drugs were less effective.
Valdiserri cautioned that the study was too limited to draw wide conclusions about how much advancements in AIDS treatment may have fueled risky behavior. …