More than 60% of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV met their sexual partners online, according to a study published (26 February) in Public Health Reports.
Researchers at Brown University, Miriam Hospital and the Rhode Island department of health interviewed 70 of the 74 people diagnosed with HIV in the state in 2013.
Forty-three were men who have sex with men, and 22 said they believed they were given the AIDS-causing virus from a man they met online.
The five most popular sites and apps were Grindr, Manhunt, Scruff, Adam4Adam and Craigslist.
‘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.’
The goal of the research was not to stigmatize sex or men who use the sites, Nunn said, but to instead to inspire partnerships with companies to include more information that could slow the spread of HIV.
Public health officials have struggled to date with sustaining informational campaigns on sites and apps that charge for advertising, either because they have no discounts for non-profits or do not discount enough. The researchers documented recent advertising costs in their study, which can quickly run into the thousands of dollars.
Craigslist and Scruff ads are free, the authors said, but staff at small non-profit or government agencies face logistical challenges in messaging in these venues, such as having to continually repost ads.
‘One of the challenges this study highlights is that it’s prohibitively expensive for many organizations who focus on public health promotion to buy ads on these apps and websites,’ Nunn said.
‘Reducing disease transmission should be part of these organizations’ corporate social responsibility programs.’