Up To 35% Of Bisexual Gay
Latinos Have AIDS -
'Startling Numbers'

By Cheryl Clark
San Diego Union Tribune

Young gay and bisexual Latino men in the San Diego-Tijuana border region have alarming rates of HIV infection ñ between 19 and 35 percent ñ says a survey released yesterday.
The numbers are as much as triple those in other California cities, according to state AIDS experts.
"These are the highest rates of any other Latino groups elsewhere in the state and should alert the San Diego community," said George Lemp, director of the University wide AIDS Research Program of the University of California, which funded the survey.
The San Diego-Tijuana rates "are startling and alarming, and provide evidence that HIV transmission is occurring more rapidly than we expected in this population," he said.
The survey found that 18.9 percent of the Tijuana study participants and 35.2 percent of those from San Diego were infected with the AIDS virus. It also found that high numbers of young Latino bisexuals were having unprotected sex with women.
HIV prevalence among young gay or bisexual Latinos in similar high-risk settings in other California cities is much lower, according to previous studies. In Sacramento, San Francisco, Long Beach, Riverside and Sonoma County, the prevalence was 8 to 9 percent. In Los Angeles County, it was 16 percent, Lemp said.
Health officials had hints that the numbers of young gay and bisexual Latinos in the border area have been growing, yet no studies of their infection rates had been done before. Why the border population had such high rates is unclear, said the study's principal investigator, Dr. Juan Ruiz, acting chief of epidemiology for the state Office of AIDS.
"They're probably not exposed to a lot of prevention messages, don't have access to condoms, or maybe they just don't feel like using them," he said. In Tijuana, he speculated, "Young gay men may be exchanging sex for drugs."
Ruiz added that the study should prompt Mexican public health authorities to "develop prevention programs targeting this population."
Survey co-author Dr. Michele Ginsberg, San Diego County epidemiologist, said the results show the danger in assuming that what is true for the biggest cities must be true here. "It's not the same to extrapolate from other parts of the state or country," she said.
The project was launched because earlier, smaller studies of other areas indicated a resurgence of unsafe sexual activity among gay youth.
Starting in May 2000, blood samples were taken from 374 gay and bisexual Latino men ñ 249 in Tijuana and 125 in San Diego.
All were between 18 and 29 years old and were recruited by other young gay men from areas where homosexuals are known to socialize, such as dance clubs, bars and cruising areas, Lemp said.
None had had an HIV test previously and all were paid $15 to $20 for their time, which included interviews and counseling.
Lemp acknowledged that the issue is culturally sensitive.
"This is a population that is essentially hidden, who don't disclose," he said. "They may be married with children and have other relationships with other partners and don't disclose they also have sex with other men."
Also worrisome was the finding that in Tijuana, survey participants reported frequent unprotected sex with women.
The study said that 39 percent of the participants from Tijuana and 27 percent of those in San Diego reported sex with a female on the other side of the border.
Further, said the study, the Tijuana participants were more likely than those from San Diego to report having more than 10 female sex partners in their lifetime (35.3 versus 6.4 percent).
The Tijuana study participants were more likely to have unprotected vaginal sex (77.5 vs. 36.8 percent) and to engage in unprotected anal sex with a female (43 vs. 13.6 percent) than the San Diegans who were interviewed.
In Tijuana, gay and bisexual Latino men were more likely to report using injection drugs or sharing injection needles (41 and 37 percent) than the men who participated in the study from San Diego (7.2 and 4.8 percent).
The report said the results suggest a need for binational cooperation in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Lemp said one reason for the unsafe behavior is the belief that today's drug treatments are more effective, so gays don't have to worry. "They've been relaxing their guard, and taking more risks," he said.
Lemp said the study's results, released at a Sacramento AIDS conference, were the most striking of all the papers presented.
San Diego County's Ginsberg said the results surprised her, especially the finding that so many gay and bisexual Tijuana men were injecting drugs and sharing needles.
"This calls for action, and there are efforts under way" to find methods to educate abusers, she said.
Greg Curran, peer advocate for the San Diego AIDS support group Being Alive, said many Latino bisexuals refuse to use condoms with women partners.
Curran said that more creative ways must be found to educate this young male population. "It has to do with denial, and not associating having sex with another man as being high risk."
Tijuana health officials who co-authored the report could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Email This Article


This Site Served by TheHostPros