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Aggressive new HIV strain prompts concern over high-risk homosexual lifestyle choices

NEW YORK (BP)–With the possible emergence of a new, more deadly strain of HIV, health officials are scrambling to devise more effective ways to convince those with high-risk lifestyles to alter their sexual behavior.

Doctors in New York City announced Feb. 11 that they had come across the stronger HIV strain that is resistant to nearly all drugs and leads to the rapid onset of AIDS.

The strain was found in a man who had tested negative for HIV in 2003 and likely had contracted the virus last October, according to a report in The New York Times. By January, the virus was not responding to the various anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV, and he was showing symptoms of AIDS.

Scientists who study HIV and AIDS have said they had seen both the resistance to drugs and the rapid progression toward AIDS before, but never in the same patient. It was only a matter of time before the virus mutated around the drugs being used to treat it, one scientist told The Times.

The news has increased the urgency, especially among those who seek to curb unprotected sex among homosexual men, to raise the level of awareness about the risk of AIDS once again. The Times said the anti-retroviral drugs have extended the life span and quality of life of so many AIDS patients since the mid-1990s that a younger generation no longer lives with adequate fear of contracting the disease.

As the fear of AIDS in America has subsided, a new trend among homosexual men, most notably in New York City, mixes crystal methamphetamine with high rates of unprotected sex.

“Crystal meth is all over the place now, and once you start using it, it becomes integrated in your mind with sex, and the idea of sober sex holds no interest,” Peter Staley, a former user who started a campaign against methamphetamine, told The Times.

A recent survey of homosexual men found that 25 percent had used crystal meth during the last few months, The Times said. Users typically mix methamphetamine with other drugs like Viagra for sexual marathons with other homosexual men, and one expert told The Times it is common for men using meth to have sex with 10 to 20 partners in one night. Too often, the sexual partners are anonymous and condoms are not used.

Initial reports indicate the New York City man who is infected with the more deadly strain of HIV had sex with hundreds of sexual partners, raising the chances that others who have caught the strain will begin to surface, The Times said.

Many AIDS experts predict it’s only a matter of time before a resurgence of the AIDS epidemic hits the United States as more powerful strains of the virus spread through high rates of unprotected sex.

“People are not going to modify their sexual habits in ways that are difficult or unpleasant until they see their friends dying again,” Gabriel Rotello, author of “Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men,” told The Times. “And to me that’s just an unbelievably depressing thought.

While the number of AIDS-related deaths has fallen dramatically since the emergence of more effective drugs, The Times said the rate of new infections has remained unchanged at about 40,000 per year.

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