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February 26, 2013

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Risky sex begets new HIV subtypes, scientists say

THERE are risks of developing new subtypes of HIV virus among gay men with multiple sex partners because of the HIV virus' quick replication and mutation ability, local researchers in Fudan University announced yesterday.

Through studying 100 gay men infected with HIV and 1,534 men who were their sex partners in the past three years, researchers from Fudan's public health school linked behavior and the spread of the HIV virus on a molecular level among China's gay population.

The discovery was published in latest version of the leading American Journal of Epidemiology.

There are up to 18 million gay men in China. Unprotected sex has become the major vehicle in the spread of HIV/AIDS in China and the percentage of infected gays is rising.

A survey led by the Ministry of Health in 61 cities in 2008 found the infection rate among gays was 4.9 percent. In five cities, the infection rate surpassed 10 percent and the rate was even close to 20 percent in some cities.

In 2012, a study found the infection rate of the HIV virus among gay men was 6.7 percent. In some big cities, gays represented over half of the new HIV/AIDS cases last year.

Previously, research on China's AIDS prevention and control was mainly focused on risky behavior among gay men, infection rates for the HIV virus and infection rates among new cases, while lacking research on the precise characteristics of the virus' spread, which impacts the effectiveness of policies on AIDS control.

Led by He Na in Fudan University, the team tracked the HIV virus' spread among gay men through following HIV infectors and their sex partners.

Researchers found if two people with different subtypes of the HIV virus engage in risky behavior like unprotected sexual intercourse, then the two subtypes may combine and even develop a new HIV subtype, which can spread further through unprotected sex with others.

The team concluded that the government must work out more effective intervention measures among gay men instead of merely stressing the importance of reducing sex partners and using condoms. Promoting the HIV virus tests among gays for early detection and intervention can be a useful measure, the team suggested.


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