National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Increasing HIV prevention and treatment options make it more important than ever to get tested and know your status.
September 27 is National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a time to reflect on the heavy toll of HIV among gay and bisexual men and acknowledge the contributions they have made in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Since the first cases of AIDS were reported in five gay men in 1981, gay and bisexual men across the United States have been at the center of the U.S. epidemic. Gay and bisexual men bear the greatest burden of this disease, accounting for almost two-thirds of all new infections in 2010. Yet, they also have been at the forefront of fighting this disease. Many have helped shape the research agenda and worked with organizations that provide HIV services.
Getting More Men Tested and Treated
Too many gay and bisexual men with HIV—more than one-third—are HIV positive and don't know it. Knowing one's status and getting linked to treatment if positive are critical to protecting one's own health and that of one's sexual partner(s).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone at high risk for HIV from sexual activity or injection drug use should be tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay men may benefit from more frequent testing, such as every 3 to 6 months.
HIV testing has never been easier. Today's, rapid tests are offered in clinics and at many other settings—like Pride events or community service organizations—with results in as little as 20 minutes. Two home testing kits are also available online or from drugstores; one is a rapid test.
A new testing initiative is now available in some U.S. cities called Testing Together (a www.effectiveinterventions.org/en/HighImpactPrevention/PublicHealthStrategies/CHTC.aspx). This strategy gives gay and bisexual men the option to get tested together through local HIV/AIDS organizations and health departments. Once the couple learns their HIV status, they can develop an HIV prevention plan just for them.
Testing is one step to help stop the spread of HIV and ensure better health. But there are many more. If you know your status, get treatment if positive; if not, take steps to keep it that way. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) coupled with a health maintenance plan can help ensure persons living with HIV live a longer, healthier life. Men who stay on ART and who have suppressed viral load also are much less likely to spread the virus to their partners—up to 96% less likely. But staying on treatment and taking it exactly as prescribed are key.
Options for Prevention
Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent HIV Infection. However, for those who are sexually active, the same basic tools for HIV prevention apply to everyone. Anal sex without a condom (unprotected anal sex) has the highest risk for spreading HIV during sex. It is also possible to become infected with HIV through oral sex, though the risk is much less than for anal or vaginal sex. For sexually active gay and bisexual men, the most effective ways to prevent HIV are to limit or avoid anal sex, or for men who do have anal sex, to use a condom correctly, every time. They can also choose less risky behaviors. In addition, sexually active gay men are at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—e.g., syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia—and CDC recommends that they be tested annually for these infections.
To help prevent the spread of HIV, two medical options now available. Men who are HIV-negative but at very high risk of infection may consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which involves taking HIV medicines every day to reduce the risk of getting infected with HIV. Men should consider PrEP if they have sex without using a condom, especially if their sex partner is HIV positive or has HIV risks (e.g., injects drugs or has sex with other people).
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) involves taking medications as soon as possible after being exposed to HIV to reduce the chance of acquiring HIV. To be effective, PEP must begin as soon as possible, but within 72 hours of exposure at the latest, and must be taken for 4 weeks. Men who think they may have been exposed to HIV should see a doctor or go to an emergency room right away to ask about PEP. PEP is for urgent situations rather than long-term risk, for which PrEP is the better option.
Targeted Media Campaigns
To increase awareness of and action against HIV, CDC's Act Against AIDS (http://www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/index.html) communications campaigns aim to reach gay and bisexual men with HIV testing and prevention messages. REASONS/RAZONES, for example, features Latino gay and bisexual men sharing their reasons for getting an HIV test. Testing Makes Us Stronger (http://hivtest.cdc.gov/stronger/index.html) encourages black gay and bisexual men to get tested for HIV.Let's Stop HIV Together (http://www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/together/index.html) focuses on reducing stigma and raises general awareness about HIV.
What Gay and Bisexual Men Can Do
All gay and bisexual men can:
- Find out about HIV, STIs, and other health issues that affect gay and bisexual men.
- Learn the HIV risk of different sex behaviors and choose less risky behaviors. (For example, oral sex is much less risky than anal sex).
- Use condoms correctly every time they have sex.
- Reduce their number of sex partners.
- Get tested for STIs at least once a year.
- Get tested for HIV and STIs by visiting the National HIV and STD Testing Resources (http://hivtest.cdc.gov/Default.aspx) site, text a ZIP code to Know IT (566948), or calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).
- Speak out against stigma, homophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS.
Sexually active HIV-negative gay and bisexual men can
- Get tested for HIV at least once a year.
- Take HIV medication to prevent HIV infection if you are at high risk for infection.
- Ask your health care provider about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) immediately (within 72 hours) after a single, high-risk possible exposure to HIV.
Sexually active HIV-positive gay and bisexual men can:
- Get life-extending care and treatment and learn how to prevent transmission to others.
- Share their HIV status with all sex partners.
September 27, 2013
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