‘Dense sexual networks’ behind high HIV rates of gay black men, study finds

By Tim Fitzsimons

Young black men who have sex with men (MSM) face a disproportionate risk of acquiring HIV because of “dense sexual networks” and other structural factors, not high-risk sexual activities, according to a new study conducted by Northwestern University.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndromes, surveyed MSM in Chicago and found young black MSM in the city are 16 times more likely to have HIV than their white counterparts, despite lower numbers of sexual partners, less unsafe sex and more frequent testing for HIV.

“Our study illuminates how HIV disparities emerge from complex social and sexual networks and inequalities in access to medical care for those who are HIV positive,” said senior study author Brian Mustanski, a professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and director of its Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

“Their social and sexual networks are more dense and interconnected, which from an infectious disease standpoint makes infections transmitted more efficiently through the group,” Mustanski said in a statement shared with NBC News. “That, coupled with the higher HIV prevalence in the population, means any sexual act has a higher chance of HIV transmission.”

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