Men who have sex with other men are fuelling HIV infections in Europe, according to a new report supported by the UK’s largest sexual health charity.
The study noted that “unprotected sex between men” is often reported as the main transmission route for the virus. However, the study itself examined all homosexual contact and did not distinguish between protected or unprotected sex.
Medical experts note that anal intercourse is, by its nature, the most risky form of sexual activity.
Sexual health specialists Dr John Dean and Dr David Delvin have warned that the practice carries a greater risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections than almost any other type of sexual activity.
And the UK Blood Transfusion and Tissue Transplantation Services will not accept blood donations from men who have had sex with men, regardless of whether they used a condom. This policy is based on an impartial assessment of the available evidence and is designed to ensure a safe blood supply.
Belgian researchers examined 500 patients who had recently been diagnosed with HIV, and discovered that most of the infections were among young white men who have sex with men (MSM).
The research, conducted by the scientists from Ghent University, also revealed that these men were more likely to have contracted other sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis.
The report’s findings have received the backing of the UK’s largest sexual health charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Trust, said: “Gay men are still the most at risk of HIV infection in the UK.
“We also know that more than a quarter of people with HIV in the UK are currently undiagnosed, and they’re far more likely to pass the virus on than those who know they have it.”
The report, published in the BioMed Central Infectious Diseases journal, cautioned: “We clearly demonstrate that, despite the existence of prevention programmes, easily available testing facilities and a supposedly broad public awareness of the infection and its possible routes of transmission, MSM still account for the majority of local onward transmissions”.
Last month Ed Milliband, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership called for the safeguard which prevents men who have sex with other men from donating blood to the overturned.
His call has previously been echoed by Diane Abbott, another of the contenders for the Labour leadership.
However, the National Blood Service (NBS) has previously warned that overturning the current ban on donations would “result in a fivefold increase in the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the blood supply”.
In 2009 the NBS released a statement showing that men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by HIV.
These men account for 63 per cent of the HIV diagnoses where the infection was likely to have been acquired in the UK.