UCLA-led research suggests that receiving support from friends and acquaintances can help prevent black men who have sex with men from becoming infected with HIV.
Black men who have sex with men have disproportionately high rates of HIV infection. While social connections are known to influence the behaviors that influence people’s risk for HIV, little is known about whether they affect the risk for becoming infected with HIV.
The researchers analyzed data from a 2009–11 study that examined a multifaceted intervention for black men who have sex with men in six U.S. cities. They analyzed the associations between measures of network support — personal and emotional, financial, medical, social participation and others — and time to HIV seroconversion, which is when antibodies to the virus develop and it becomes detectable in the blood.
One thousand men tested negative for HIV infection at the beginning of the study. Of them, 28 eventually tested positive during the study period. Participants who remained free from HIV were more likely to receive personal and emotional, medical or social support through their social networks.
Limitations to the study include that participants received peer counseling, testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and care referrals, which could have contributed to a lower risk for HIV; the study measured perceived support rather than the actual amount of support participants received; and the study was limited to men living in large cities.
By suggesting that a greater level of support from friends and other social connections could help protect against acquiring HIV, the findings could be helpful for future HIV prevention projects.
The paper’s authors include Steven Shoptaw of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and Ryan Cook of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
The UCLA–Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program and the National Institutes of Health funded the research.