Background: Recent increases in rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and decreases in safe sex behaviors among men who have sex with men (MSM) in several American and European cities have been noted by researchers. It has been suggested that these trends are the result of perceptions that HIV/AIDS is less serious because of the availability of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
Goal: The goal of the study was to examine trends in STD rates and risk behaviors among MSM and men who have sex with women (MSW) visiting a public STD clinic in Denver and to determine whether there is an ecological association with the availability of HAART.
Study design: This is a two-part retrospective analysis of male visits to the Denver Metro Health Clinic (DMHC). The first part describes gonorrhea and early (primary and secondary) syphilis trends among MSM between 1982 and 2001. For the second part, data were grouped into two 6-year time periods to represent pre-HAART and post-HAART time frames, 1990 to 1995 and 1996 to 2001.
Results: Gonorrhea and early syphilis cases among MSM declined precipitously between 1982 and 1988 and then stabilized at low rates. The proportion of male visits to the clinic made by MSM decreased from 14.1% in 1990 to 7.2% in 1995 and then increased to 13.0% in 2001. Gonorrhea positivity rates among MSM increased after 1995 and were significantly higher in the period 1996 to 2001 (12.9%) than in the period 1990 to 1995 (8.1%; P<0.0001). Conversely, gonorrhea rates among MSW dropped from 11.2% in the first period to 6.9% in the second (P<0.0001). Among MSM known to be HIV-infected, gonorrhea rates increased from 11.6% in the first time period to 24.0% in the second period (P<0.0001). Reports of anal sex among MSM increased from 64.4% to 70.9% (P<0.0001). Reporting more than one sex partner increased for MSM from 65.2% to 70.3% (P<0.0001), but it significantly decreased from 52.6% to 46.2% for MSW (P<0.0001). No or inconsistent condom use increased from 60.9% to 63.0% for MSM (P=NS) and decreased from 85.1% to 82.4% among MSW (P<0.0001).
Conclusions: These trends appear to reflect a change toward higher risk-taking behaviors among MSM but not MSW since the time HAART became available and raise concerns about the potential for increased HIV transmission in this group.