Dating websites and apps may be behind the growing number of newly HIV-infected men in the US, a new study has said, cautioning people about the risks of sexual encounters arranged online.
More than 60 per cent of men in the US state of Rhode Island who had sex with men and were diagnosed with HIV in 2013 reported meeting their sexual partners online in the preceding year, said the study that interviewed 70 of the state's 74 newly diagnosed people.
In 2013, 74 Rhode Island residents were newly diagnosed with HIV. Three in five were gay, bisexual, or others. And of the 43 people, 22 told researchers they believed a man they met online gave them the virus.
"This is a statewide study that included nearly all individuals newly diagnosed with HIV across an entire state," said Amy Nunn, associate professor of Public Health and Medicine at Brown University and director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute. "This is one of the first studies to document how common internet site use is among people newly diagnosed with HIV and highlights important opportunities to partner with hookup sites to advance public health," said Nunn.
Many of the individuals newly diagnosed in Rhode Island were diagnosed late in the course of their infection, the study showed. Researchers said this suggested that they may have been living with HIV for a long time, and potentially unknowingly transmitting HIV to other people, including partners they met online.
Companies that produce online dating and apps should partner with public health groups, to share public health messages about the risks of sexual encounters arranged online, researchers said. For instance, sites and apps could provide affordable advertising access to help prevent infection in communities that are most impacted by HIV, they said.
The findings were published in the journal Public Health Reports.