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Social Media May Help Boost HIV Testing Rates Among Gay Men

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The number of new HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) cases is increasing by the minute. A great deal of effort is needed to curb the spread of the dreaded virus and experts believe that the social media where most gay men meet their sexual partners could also be used to boost HIV testing rates.

Researchers in the United States conducted a trial among two online sites and posted in two other forums without any intervention. They targeted geographic locations about 200 to 330 miles apart to avoid overlapping of users since these sites including Craigslist, Adam4Adam, BlackGayChat and Gay.com, are designed to pave way for users to meet in person.

Now, health educators created public profiles targeting all these sites. These profiles are easily accessible to everyone and allowed the health experts to talk to the users about the importance of HIV testing. They also discussed important details like places where the users could go for HIV testing.

In a specific site, Craigslist, the health educator posted information on HIV testing every 3 to 4 hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday between 2013 and 2014.

The investigators offered $10 compensation to users in order for them to complete an assessment form which contains information about alcohol use, drug use, race, age, sexual orientation and HIV status. A history of how many times they got tested for HIV was also included.

In the end, more than 1,000 people completed the assessment forms but most of them declined to be paid.

Higher Past 12-Month HIV Testing

The findings show that the users' average age were 40 years old and most reported having sex with at least one man. About one-third said they had sex with at least one woman over the last year.

About 35 percent of the users said that at the beginning of the year, they underwent HIV testing over the previous 12 months. After the intervention, however, 64 percent reported undergoing HIV testing in the previous year compared to just 40 percent in the control group, those who did not undergo the intervention.

"We tested an intervention designed to increase HIV testing among men who have sex with men and transgender persons within existing and commonly used social media," the researchers wrote.

"At follow-up, intervention communities had significantly higher past 12-month HIV testing than the comparison communities. Findings suggest that promoting HIV testing via social media can increase testing," they added.

Importance Of HIV Testing

At the end of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that an estimated 1.2 million people aged 13 years and above have HIV infection in the United States alone. Out of these people, about 156,300 had not been diagnosed, which means they can transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

This is why HIV testing is important in the effort to somehow curb the spread of the highly infectious disease. Since there are about 50,000 new infections each year, being tested could help reduce this number.

In 2006, CDC released the revised recommendations for HIV testing among adults, pregnant women and adolescents. For people who are sexually active, HIV testing is important. CDC recommends that everyone get tested at least once in their lifetimes, and for those who are at risk, they need to get tested more frequently. 

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