By: Marcus Hopkins, HEAL blogger
“GWM bareback top seeking NEG bottoms for Bug Sharing Party. Charged loads and Hep C., guaranteed”
This was an example of a profile I read on BBRT, a website geared towards those seeking bareback sex with other men. To be fair, I had a membership on this site, primarily because, at one time, I enjoyed having bareback sex, so long as I could serosort my partners (have sex with only other HIV+ men). This was the profile that stopped me in my tracks.
The Bug Chasing phenomenon is a one that isn’t very well researched because those who seek infection are often those unwilling to come forward and participate in any sort of study. It’s the dirty (to use their verbiage) little secret that no one in the HIV research community likes to talk about; that statistic might imply that all of the hard work and advances made over the last thirty plus years has been for naught.
When you add the risk of co-infection, the proliferation of other infectious diseases and viruses along with HIV, the picture becomes more daunting. It’s disheartening to read profile entries like the one I listed above, especially for someone who’s spent much of the last decade attempting to education high school and college students about the risks associated with unprotected sex.
While the statistics concerning the spread of HIV are readily available from several sources, finding information on HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) is not so simple. Dr. John Ward, director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, states that “Viral Hepatitis is a large and under-appreciated problem in the United States,” and he’s right – Americans don’t understand the severity of the virus and it’s longterm negative effects on the body and liver functions. Combine that frightening revelation with the estimated 52% of Americans living with HIV who are not currently seeking treatment, and one might come to the conclusion that the problem is insurmountable.
The HIV+ MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) population is particularly susceptible to the ravages of Hepatitis C because their immune system is already compromised; if the liver starts to fail and cannot function properly, the body is faced with an even more daunting task.
While the most common way to transmit Hepatitis C is currently injection drug use, the risk of transmission through sexual contact is still believed to be low. That risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, already have an STD/STI, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV, which presents an interesting conundrum: how do we identify and educate those most likely to come in contact with Hepatitis C through sexual contact?
There are no simple answers; no easy solutions. At present, the most effective ways we can reach out to at-risk communities is through doctor’s visits, increasing the amount of readily available (and accurate) information on the web and in print, and through peer education. We, as educators, have a responsibility to the people we serve to provide information to the populace in order to better reach those who are at risk of contracting HCV about the risks and treatment options. When we fail to do so, we increase the chance that this once rare virus may spread beyond the currently plateaued levels of new infection.
Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates.