A new national survey paints in stark statistics the image of a gay and bisexual population that is largely unconcerned about HIV, unaware that antiretrovirals (ARVs) can prevent infection and dismissive of men living with the virus as potential love or sexual interests, SFGate.com reports. These troubling findings derive from a nationally representative survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation of 431 men age 18 and older who self-identified as gay or bisexual. The survey, which was released to coincide with National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, has a sampling error of plus or minus 7 percent, with a larger sampling error for findings about subgroups of the study population.

The men surveyed stated that HIV/AIDS was the primary health concern facing gay and bisexual men, and yet 56 percent said they weren’t personally concerned about contracting HIV. Out of those who did not report being HIV positive, just 30 percent said they had been tested for the virus within the previous 12 months, with 19 percent saying they had been tested during the previous six months. Forty-four percent of the men under the age of 35 said they had never been tested for HIV, compared with 21 percent of those over 35.

In what should prove a significant concern to those promoting Truvada (tenofovir/emtricitabine) as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV among gay and bisexual men, just 26 percent of those surveyed said they were aware that such an intervention exists. When asked specifically about Truvada as PrEP, 9 percent said they had heard a lot about it, 11 percent a fair amount, 25 percent only a little, and 55 percent none at all.

Forty-six percent of those surveyed were aware that guidelines for people with HIV recommend starting ARVs immediately after diagnosis. Only 25 percent knew about “treatment as prevention”—that taking ARVs greatly reduces the chance that someone with HIV will pass on the virus.

Fifty-six percent said that a physician has never recommended they take an HIV antibody test. Sixty-one percent reported rarely or never discussing the virus when visiting the doctor.

Thirty-two percent were aware that HIV incidence has been rising among gay and bisexual men. Twenty-two percent believed the trends are moving in the opposite direction. The remainder of the group said they believed that HIV rates among the population are static, or said they didn’t know.

There was something of a silver lining in the fact that ethnic minorities, who are at greater risk for HIV when compared with whites, were more likely to see HIV/AIDS as a significant issue for themselves. Sixty-four percent of minorities said so, compared with 42 percent of whites. A respective 53 percent and 28 percent said they were concerned about acquiring the virus.

Seventy-five percent of the men surveyed said that a lack of awareness of one’s HIV status among gay and bisexual men is a major reason control of the epidemic among the population has been difficult. Sixty-two percent of the men cited complacency, and 56 percent cited HIV-related stigma as major contributing factors.

Sixty-eight percent said they rarely or never discuss HIV with friends, while 50 percent said they don’t discuss the virus much with casual sexual partners. That figure was 60 percent with long-term partners.

Out of the men who did not self-identify as HIV-positive, 74 percent said they were comfortable having a nonsexual relationship with someone living with HIV, but only 27 percent said they were comfortable with the idea of being in a long-term sexual relationship, and 16 percent said the same about casual sex with an HIV-positive person. Such negative attitudes were more common among those younger than 35.

“The results of the Kaiser survey, while not surprising, are alarming and highlight the need for both gay men and medical providers to take the initiative when it comes to HIV testing,” Juan Carlos Loubriel, community health manager at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, DC, said in a release. “We encourage all gay men to be advocates for their own health, which includes knowing your HIV status and learning more about the prevention and treatment options that exist.”

To read the press release about the study and link to the study itself, click here.

To read the SFGate story, click here.