Report: HIV Rates Higher Among Straight Men and Women than Gay, Bi Men

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 9, 2022

Report: HIV Rates Higher Among Straight Men and Women than Gay, Bi Men
  (Source:Getty Images)

A new report indicates that, in the UK, HIV rates are higher for straight men and women — who account for 50% of new cases — than they are for gay and bisexual men, who comprise 45% of the total.

The news was reported by UK newspaper the Independent, which cited the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) for the stats.

Those figures were true as of "the year leading to December 2021," the article said.

Reporting on the findings, another UK newspaper, The Guardian, detailed how the "turnaround in fortunes coincides with three big changes for HIV in the UK in the past decade. First, we are increasingly getting better at HIV testing and offering free kits that can be ordered online and done at home. We used to wait weeks for test results — now it can be as little as 15 minutes."

"Second, the HIV prevention pill PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is highly effective at protecting against HIV. It is widely used by gay men but far less so by other groups," the article continued.

"Finally, we now treat people living with HIV as close to their diagnosis as possible. Early diagnosis and access to effective treatment means the virus is quickly suppressed to 'undetectable' levels, meaning zero risk of passing the virus to sexual partners."

Early diagnosis and prompt access to effective medication are key not only to helping limit the spread of HIV, but also to the health of HIV-positive individuals. The "HSA found that heterosexual people were more likely to be diagnosed late, at a stage when damage to their immune systems had already begun," the Independent noted.

It remains to be seen if similar shifts will be take place in the U.S. The most recent figures for new HIV cases by demographic are from 2019, at which time, according to the government website hiv.gov, which drew data from the CDC, HIV transmission continued "to have a disproportionate impact on certain populations, particularly racial and ethnic minorities and gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men."

Pharmaceuticals company Gilead noted in text on its website that, "As of 2019, 56% of people living with HIV in the US contracted it through male-to-male sexual transmission."

However, at that point in time, new cases of HIV in the United States were seen to be falling, the hiv.gov website noted. "In 2019, 36,801 people received an HIV diagnosis in the U.S. and 6 dependent areas — an overall 9% decrease compared with 2015."

But, in another wrinkle, "HIV diagnoses are not evenly distributed across states and regions," the site said. "The highest rates of new diagnoses continue to occur in the South."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.