A campaign to educate Seattle gay men about the symptoms of acute HIV infection through an advertising effort and web site has had no influence testing behavior and a limited impact on knowledge, aidsmap reports. Publishing their findings in the advanced online edition of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, researchers from the University of Washington evaluated the impact of the “ru2hot?” campaign, which used press advertisements, wallet cards, two billboard posters in Seattle’s main gay neighborhood and banner ads on the sex hook-up site Manhunt, all of which directed to an informational website. The campaign aimed to raise awareness about the symptoms experienced by up to 90 percent of people recently infected with HIV—including fever, fatigue, rash, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat and joint and muscle pain—and encouraged gay and bisexual men to seek RNA testing, which can detect an HIV infection within about nine days after exposure.

The website experienced only 1,164 unique visitors over a two-year span, with a cost of $19,038 over three years. The researchers conducted four surveys of men at a Seattle clinic: two including a total of 200 men before the campaign began, one including 87 men about six months after the campaign began in 2009, and another including 79 men about six months after the campaign relaunched with the billboard component in 2010.

A quarter or less recalled the campaign, while the ability to name at least two acute infection symptoms or to mention a “flu-like illness” remained the same at about 60 percent. Those who recalled the campaign were about twice as likely to mention fever as a symptom in the final survey. The study’s analysis of data about gay men’s HIV testing in Seattle between 2004 and 2010 found that the campaign did not affect their behavior in regards to seeking health care.

The authors conclude that diagnosing people during acute infection is important because research has shown they contribute significantly to the spread of the virus. However, health campaigns must be evaluated to measure their impact.

To read the aidsmap story, click here

To read the study abstract, click here