A national report on the experiences of men recently diagnosed with HIV has suggested that oral sex may be a more common pathway of transmission than once thought.

The Seroconversion Study Annual Report 2010, released on Friday, surveyed 247 homo

sexually active men across Australia with new HIV diagnoses during the period of 2007 – 2010.

One of the report’s authors, Ian Down, told the Star Observer that a big surprise had been the number of men who attributed their HIV infection to performing oral sex when they had health problems in their mouth.

“One in five of these men say they didn’t engage in any unprotected intercourse which we know is the strongest risk factor for HIV seroconversion,” Down said.

“That’s a significant proportion and a lot of these men believe their infection occurred through oral sex. They describe things like recent dental work, ulcers or other problems in the mouth.

“It’s pretty alarming, particularly for guys who find themselves in that situation as they’re not prepared for it because they believe they’ve done everything right to protect themselves from seroconversion.

“It might be time to remind people to avoid oral sex when they think there might be problems in their mouth.”

Key findings in the report include: men appear more likely to forgo condom use with men they knew beforehand, and felt they could trust; one in five of the men in the study appears to have been infected while travelling, either internationally or domestically; and well over a third of the men who were able to identify a sexual encounter they believed had led to their HIV infection indicated that it had been a group sex event.

The report recommends a review of “the incorporation within health promotion initiatives of more detailed information about the specific circumstances in which the risk of infection through oral sex might be greater than is otherwise assumed”.

“This report includes important information about the contexts in which men are more likely to engage in risky behaviours, and will be very important in informing future HIV prevention education,” the study’s chief investigator, Associate Professor Garrett Prestage, said.

The Seroconversion Study continues to recruit people recently diagnosed with HIV and has recently expanded to include both men and women, regardless of their sexuality.

The report was conducted by the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University.

info: Visit www.hivss.net

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