A new report has concluded that “The Majority of new HIV infections among MSM in the United Kingdom in 2001-2020 is expected to be accounted for by a small group of highly sexually active individuals under the age of 35 years, living with undiagnosed HIV in the asymptomatic stage”. Let’s explain what that means…..
The study modeled the spread of HIV in the UK in Men who have sex with Men (MSM) which includes gay men, transsexual men and the curious experimenters. It looked at those MSM who were newly infected with HIV, and found that 2 out 3 caught HIV from someone who did not know their HIV status. Almost a further 1 in 5 caught it from someone who knew they were HIV positive, but were not taking any medication. 9 out of 10 new infections were in an ongoing sexual relationship with the person they caught it from. Most people were under the age of 35 when they caught HIV (62% of those in the sample). It is this younger age group who are most sexually active, with more partners.
Asymptomatic means that currently the person with any infection (in this case HIV) does not know that they have the infection. It means they have no symptoms. This can be a long phase with HIV (lasting years in some cases) the body is starting to do damage to the immune system. You may notice that colds and other infections take longer to clear up, but otherwise are not aware of any symptoms. Medication can really help in this stage. It helps prevent damage to the immune system and with time can make you very unlikely to pass the infection on, even without a condom,
Getting tested early is key to successful treatment, but also to not passing the infection on to others. This model shows that most people pass the infection on when they do not know their HIV status. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.
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