Following a confusingly constructed press release from the University of Pittsburgh, multiple media outlets have erroneously reported that the risk of HIV for bisexual men in the United States is comparable to the risk for heterosexual men. The incorrect reports, in outlets including Medical Daily and WebMD, essentially turn on a confusion between the number of HIV infections among hetero- versus homosexuals, and the rate of infection in each respective group.
Presenting their findings at the American Public Health Association’s 141st Annual Meeting & Exposition in Boston, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health conducted meta-analyses of 31 scientific articles that provided data on HIV prevalence and risk among men who have sex with men only (gay) and men who have sex with both men and women (bisexual).
The investigators found that bisexual men had an HIV prevalence rate 60 percent lower than that of gay men. They theorized that this difference in HIV prevalence was because bisexual men were also 60 percent less likely than gay men to report unprotected receptive anal intercourse.
Bisexuals, they estimated, have an HIV prevalence rate of about 10 percent: Out of an estimated 1.2 million bisexual men in the United States, 121,800 are HIV positive. A similar number of heterosexual men are living with HIV.
Here is where the media reports got confused: The reports state that the risk of HIV is the same for both bisexual and heterosexual men. But this would only be true if the rate of HIV were the same between the two groups. What is only the same between the two groups is the number of cases. Because there are vastly more heterosexual than bisexual men in the country, the rate of HIV infection for straight men is therefore a small fraction of that of bisexual men’s.
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