UAB researchers: HIV infections in gay, bisexual men in the Southeast is a public health crisis

Published: May. 18, 2016 at 11:23 PM CDT|Updated: May. 19, 2016 at 1:33 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Doctors say the problem of HIV in gay and bisexual men in the Southeast shouldn't be ignored. UAB researchers are calling it a public health crisis.

UAB doctors say gay and bisexual men in the Southeast have the greatest risk for HIV. It's alarming to doctors who want to get the word out about the treatment to prevent infections. UAB doctors say the biggest problem is that men who are most at risk don't realize it or don't want to admit it, which is leading to more HIV infections in the south.

"They walk in and say, 'I know I'm at risk, I'd like to be treated.' These are the lucky ones," said Dr. Michael Saag with UAB's 1917 HIV Clinic.

Truvada or PrEP is the blue pill that doctors say can prevent HIV in 9 out of 10 cases if taken every day. But Dr. Saag says the large majority of gay and bisexual men aren't using it.

"A lot of guys think 'I'll take it if I know I'm going to have an exposure,'" said Dr. Saag. "The intermittent PrEP doesn't work quite as well as taking it every day. I think the biggest barrier is that people who are at risk don't realize they're at risk. We know 1 in 6 gay men in Alabama are at lifetime risk of becoming infected with HIV. If they're black it's a 1 in 2 risk."

"You've got to admit you're at risk for HIV," said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo,

Dr. Marrazzo with UAB's Division of Infectious Diseases says something needs to be done to decrease the number of infections. Part of it is encouraging men to expose their same-sex behavior.

"We need to do a better job creating a safe environment for them to come in and talk about this and not feel like they're going to be outed," said Dr. Marrazzo.

So, here's one problem with the pill, Dr. Marrazzo says PrEP is very expensive, costing up to $3,000 a month. Insurance may or may cover it, but she says there are patient assistance programs.

UAB doctors say more needs to be done to make sure gay and bisexual men know about PrEP and also find more discreet ways for them to get the drug.

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