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Archive for July, 2008

UntitledAIDS Tops Heath Ledger’s Joker ‘Ha-ha’ Journal

Posted by pozlife on July 25, 2008

AIDS Tops Heath Ledger’s Joker ‘Ha-ha’ Journal

By all accounts, Heath Ledger spent months getting into the head of the Joker as he prepared to film The Dark Knight, a role critics seem to think might bag the late actor a posthumous Oscar nomination.

According to reports, the actor locked himself in his New York apartment to practice the Jokers voice and nail down his mannerisms—in fact, his style of method acting, some say, might have led to the sleeping problems the actor claimed to be having before he overdosed on prescription drugs this January.

Among the prep work Ledger focused on to get into character—a journal, which, according to gossip site PopBitch.com, included a list of things Ledger thought the Joker might find funny.

First thing on the list? AIDS.

According to his costars, the actor, who rose to fame in the gay community for his Oscar nominated work in Brokeback Mountain, talked about wanted to find the sick and twisted corners of the Joker’s mind… a character, he said, who had almost no soul.

The Dark Knight is in theatres now. Ledger has one more film awaiting release. Several parts of the Terry Gilliam directed The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus were reworked to incorporate the scenes Ledger had completed before passing away.

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HIV/AIDS and Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM)

Posted by pozlife on July 21, 2008


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Various young men in social setting.The term men who have sex with men (MSM) refers to all men who have sex with other men, regardless of how they identify themselves (gay, bisexual, or heterosexual). In the United States, HIV and AIDS have had a tremendous impact on MSM. Consider these facts:

  • AIDS has been diagnosed for more than half a million MSM. Over 300,000 MSM with AIDS have died since the beginning of the epidemic.
  • MSM made up more than two thirds (68%) of all men living with HIV in 2005, even though only about 5% to 7% of men in the United States reported having sex with other men.
  • In a 2005 study of 5 large US cities, 46% of African American MSM were HIV-positive.

Since HIV/AIDS in MSM was first diagnosed 1981, gay and bisexual men have been leaders in dealing with the challenges of the epidemic. Gay organizations and activists, through their work, have contributed greatly to many of the guidelines for prevention, treatment, and the care of people living with HIV/AIDS.

For complex reasons, HIV/AIDS continues to take a high toll on the MSM population. For example, the number of new HIV/AIDS cases among MSM in 2005 was 11% more than the number of cases in 2001. It is unclear whether this increase is due to more testing, which results in more diagnoses, or to an increase in the number of HIV infections. Whatever the reasons, in 2005, MSM still accounted for about 53% of all new HIV/AIDS cases and 71% of cases in male adults and adolescents.


Last Modified: June 28, 2007
Last Reviewed: June 28, 2007
Content Source:
Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention

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Posted by pozlife on July 21, 2008


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CDC’s highly trained physicians, epidemiologists, public health advisors, behavioral scientists, and laboratory scientists work side by side with Ministries of Health and other partners, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief,  to combat HIV/AIDS in more than 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.  Learn more.


Special Highlights

HIV/AIDS Ribbon Beads2008 BOTUSA Partnership: Learn more about CDC’s partnership with Government of Botswana to stop the spread of HIV and TB in southern Africa. Learn more


2008 HIV/AIDS IMPLEMENTERS' MEETING2008 HIV/AIDS IMPLEMENTERS’ MEETING: HIV/AIDS implementers from around the world gathered in Kampala, Uganda from June 3-7 for the 2008 HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting. Recognizing the rapid expansion of HIV/AIDS programs worldwide, the focus of this year’s meeting was building the capacity of local prevention, treatment, and care programs; enhancing quality; and promoting coordination among partners. Learn more


Couples HIV Counseling and Testing InterventionCouples HIV Counseling and Testing Intervention and Training Curriculum: Through PEPFAR, CDC has collaborated with the Rwanda Zambia HIV Research Group (RZHRG), the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), and other national and international partners to develop training materials that will help HIV counseling and testing (HCT) providers address the complex issues related to counseling and testing with couples. Learn more….


HIV TestingHIV Testing and Counseling in TB Clinical Settings Tool to assist countries to plan and implement provider-initiated and delivered HIV testing and counseling in TB clinical settings.


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Recruitment for the Global AIDS ProgramRecruitment for the Global AIDS Program
Exciting and challenging positions all over the world. Qualified applicants are encouraged to apply.


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House Will Approve Senate’s Version of PEPFAR Reauthorization Legislation Next Week, Leaders Say

Posted by pozlife on July 18, 2008

July 18, 2008

The House next week will approve the Senate’s version of a bill to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, sending the measure to President Bush to sign into law, leaders said on Thursday, CQ Today reports. The Senate on Wednesday voted 80-16 to approve the bill (HR 5501) after substituting language from its version (S 2731). The House Foreign Affairs Committee said that it will accept the Senate version, and Bush is expected to sign the bill (Graham-Silverman, CQ Today, 7/17).

The Senate version of the legislation allocates a total of $50 billion — $48 billion of which would go to PEPFAR and $2 billion of which would go to American Indian issues. The chamber also adopted an amendment intended to increase oversight of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and encourage cost-sharing and transition strategies as part of agreements with countries that receive PEPFAR aid. The Senate version also includes a provision that would ease U.S. HIV/AIDS travel restrictions.

The House version of the legislation, which would allocate $50 billion for PEPFAR, passed in April. One primary difference between the House and Senate versions is that the House version would allow groups to use PEPFAR funding for HIV testing and education in family planning clinics but not for contraception or abortion services (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/17). The Senate bill does not mention family planning programs, according to CQ Today (CQ Today, 7/17).

In addition, the House version includes some spending mandates that are not in the Senate bill, including a requirement that 20% of PEPFAR funding be allocated to prevention. The Senate version includes a provision that more than half of the program’s aid go toward HIV/AIDS treatment and care. Both versions would overturn an existing law that requires one-third of prevention funds be spent on abstinence and fidelity programs, instead requiring a report to Congress if countries do not spend half of prevention money on such programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/17). Both measures also would direct 10% of funding to programs for orphans and vulnerable children, as well as allocate $2 billion for the Global Fund in fiscal year 2009. Both bills contain an existing requirement that organizations receiving PEPFAR aid have a policy that opposes commercial sex work. The Senate version would create links between HIV/AIDS and nutrition programs and set a target of recruiting 140,000 health care workers. In addition, both measures would allocate $5 billion for malaria programs and $4 billion for tuberculosis initiatives (CQ Today, 7/17).

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Blood Tests Could Replace Liver Biopsies for Hep C

Posted by pozlife on July 15, 2008

A series of blood tests was nearly as accurate at predicting the progression of liver damage as liver biopsies in people coinfected with both HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV), say the authors of a study published in the July 31 issue of AIDS. The high level of accuracy, the authors conclude, may reduce the number of liver biopsies in coinfected patients by 83 percent.
Currently, the gold standard for assessing the progression of liver damage, or fibrosis, caused by HCV infection is a liver biopsy. Unfortunately, biopsies are expensive, can be quite painful and carry the risk of internal bleeding.
To investigate whether a series of blood tests, or markers, may be as accurate as a biopsy, Daniel Suzman, MD, and his colleagues from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, studied 100 blood and biopsy samples from 68 people coinfected with HIV and HCV. Suzman’s team found that an eight-marker system—six blood tests combined with a person’s age and whether or not he or she has used antiretroviral (ARV) HIV therapy—correctly classified the stage of liver damage 88 percent of the time.
Suzman’s team also found that a four-marker system—all blood tests—was statistically equivalent to the eight-marker system. The authors caution, however, that their systems will need to be validated in larger clinical trials before being viewed as a replacement for liver biopsies.

Search: hepatitis C, HCV, liver biopsy, biopsies, Daniel Suzman, National Institutes of Health, NIH

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Russia and India Pledge AIDS Vaccine in 10-15 Years

Posted by pozlife on July 15, 2008

Political and health leaders from Russia said they could develop an AIDS vaccine in the next 10 or 15 years, Russian wire service RIA Novosti reported (en.rian.ru, 7/10).
During a RIA Novosti TV link between Moscow and New Delhi, the Russian deputy head of the human well-being, science and research, Marina Shevyreva, said Russia could produce a vaccine.
On the same TV link, B.S. Banerji, MD, of the Indian Health Ministry, said India could have a vaccine on a similar timeline.
The Russian government has spent about $43 million for an HIV/AIDS vaccine.
“We have vaccine candidates, but there is still a lot of work to do,” said Alexander Goliusov, the HIV/AIDS controller for the country’s consumer rights regulator. “We could expect a vaccine within the next 10 to 15 years.”
Goliusov said that three research centers in Russia had been added to a vaccine development team and a group of HIV-positive patients in St. Petersburg had already been selected for tests.
The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimated last November that there were 1 million HIV-positive people in Russia. The country’s chief doctor, Gennady Onishchenko, said that only 403,000 HIV cases had been registered in Russia since 1987, when the first HIV case was reported there.
India, a nation of about 1.15 billion people, has more than 5 million people living with HIV/AIDS, according 2001 estimates in the CIA World Factbook.

Search: Russia, India, vaccine

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Bug Chaser & Gift Giver Parties

Posted by pozlife on July 12, 2008

Deliberately Transmitting HIV

By Ramon Johnson, About.com

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What is a “bug chaser?”
A bug chaser is a gay man who deliberately attempts to contract HIV by having unprotected sex with a man or group of men who are known to have the virus.
What is a “gift giver?”
A gift giver is an HIV positive gay man who deliberately transmits the virus, often times to bug chasers, or those willing to contract it.
What are bug parties?
Bug parties are sex parties often ranging from a few to as much as 30 people. Unsafe sex with every participant at the party is encouraged. There are several variations of bug parties. At some, there is one member of the “orgy” that is HIV positive. Only this individual and the host know his positive status. The remaining participants know that there is an infected person in the room, but do not know his identity. The participants then partake in a night usually filled with alcohol, drugs and of course unsafe sex.
In other variations of a bug party, there is one person who is not infected with HIV, however the other participants are or may be. Every one is aware of the person who disease free. The HIV negative person then allows the infected guys to have unprotected anal sex with him.
Why do people participate in bug parties?
Many psychologists theorize that participation in bug parties is actually an anxiety disorder where the non-infected individuals fear getting HIV so greatly that they would rather contract it and free themselves of the anxiety of living in fear. These parties are also seen as a sort of club for those living with HIV. Infecting a HIV negative and willing participant initiates them into their world. Some people also engage in unprotected anal sex (or barebacking) as the fear for AIDS dangerously dwindles.
The Gift” from filmmaker Louise Hogarth is a documentary about gay men who purposely contract HIV. According to Rolling Stone, one character in the film admits “I was relieved. I didn’t have to worry. Do I need to be careful — not any more.” Yet another willing 21-year-old regrets his choice. “I’ve made a terrible mistake and there’s no fixing that. There is no benefit in this and that’s what needs to be said.”

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Bug Chasers 2

Posted by pozlife on July 12, 2008

by Daniel Hill

Beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. – Jalal al-Din Rumi

When people are labeled ‘abnormal’ simply because of their differences, and discriminated against because of those differences, their entire being can become paralyzed. The voice of the mind is stifled, the voice of the heart is oppressed, and the voice of action becomes disabled. For many decades in America, homosexuals have suffered in this way. Homosexuality was not only discriminated against, it was made illegal and labeled a mental disorder.

With the multicultural revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, we witnessed the beginnings of the arduous task of affirming the rights of oppressed people in our society, including homosexuals. For gay people, a benchmark of success in this movement occurred in 1973, when the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. At last, as gay people, our differences were no longer pathologized and society began to not hold these differences against us, at least institutionally. This was one of the many markers in gay history that enabled us to rediscover our long impotent voices. Even so, there are still those who attempt to pathologize our expressions of love, to minimize who we are as human beings, and who look upon our community only in the context of our ‘behavior,’ rather than embracing each individual as a member of the human family.

As a gay man living with HIV, I have found it difficult to hold the DSM in my hands, difficult to gaze upon its pages, and difficult to let go of the rage that I felt inside towards a book that was often referenced in the persecution of so many of my gay relations. But in my anger I came face to face with my own resistance-resistance to let go of the past, to look upon the pages of the DSM with a fresh mind, and to acknowledge the wisdom that this book holds. I recognized that my inability to rise above such a mindset mirrored that of the earlier authors of the DSM. This was a source of tremendous suffering for me.

I often refer to the DSM in this article. I do so not to hold individuals in a pathological ‘freeze-frame,’ but rather as a tool to recognize particular paths, to understand the complex story of people. I am trying to explore my own resistance to the lives that we bear witness to here. Ultimately, I believe that we are all bound by love and the human covenant to deeply understand such lives.

I must also begin with this disclaimer. The men I refer to as “Bug Chasers” are a very small fraction of the gay community. This article is not meant to sensationalize nor bring harm to my gay brothers. It is only my attempt to understand, embrace and ultimately love them-without want, resistance, or ignorance.

Asking For Help
I can remember the demonstrations in San Francisco, I can still feel the heavy sadness, still hear the chanting of the crowds, I can see the placards demanding assistance from the federal government, and I can still smell the burning of thousands of candles in memory of our dead. I can taste the salt of my tears. Our pain, our anger, our isolation, our grief, our hopelessness, and our helplessness brought us together. Help was all we were asking for.

Gay had become the acronym for “Got AIDS Yet?” Out on a date I confided “I am HIV positive.” His reply was “Who isn’t?” Was it 1983? ’84? ’85? Was it Castro Street, Market Street, or Civic Center? Was it 10,000, 20,000, or 30,000 marching? This was the dawning of the AIDS community and help was all we were asking for.

Year 2000. In Gay nightclubs across the U.S. men wear sleeveless shirts in hopes that someone will notice the tattoo “HIV-” blazoned across their deltoid. What is not so obvious is that the intention of such a tattoo is to attract someone who is HIV+. It is an invitation to infect through a practice known as “barebacking,” having unprotected anal sex. In other words, the tattooed man is intentionally seeking an HIV+ partner to infect him with the virus. All that is left is a trip back to the tattoo artist to have that tattoo adjusted from negative to positive. Simple.

Is help all these men are asking for?

In private sex clubs across the U.S. men gather for a chance to participate in what is called Russian Roulette. Ten men are invited, nine are HIV-, one is HIV+. The men have agreed to not speak of AIDS, nor HIV. They participate in as many unsafe sexual encounters with each other as possible, thus increasing their chances to receive “the bug.” These are the men known as ‘Bug Chasers.’

Is help all they are asking for?

Suicide or Informed Consent?
For most of us, our initial reaction to such behavior is shock. We could assume that men who do this are trying to commit suicide, consciously or unconsciously. We might demonize such behavior by blaming these men for the further spread of AIDS. My own initial reaction was a mix of deep sadness and concern, harsh and bitter judgment, accompanied by a dark fascination and an echo of familiarity. I wanted to see into and label such behavior, perhaps even to pathologize. I wanted to understand what was the fire of my judgment and the coolness of something so familiar. As I began to research, I turned first to the wisdom of psychology to try to understand.

What could cause men to tempt fate so? There are many apparent reasons. Some men report that the element of danger in sexual encounters of this kind adds to the “rush” of arousal. There are men who, once infected, feel like they finally “belong,” they are now part of the Gay community. Some find relief in knowing that now they don’t have to worry about getting infected any more, the deed is done. Some believe the myth that HIV is a chronic manageable disease and that the new drugs promise them a long and healthy life. Some couples see infection as the deepest level of intimacy.

No doubt any of the above explanations can be put forth as probable cause for such seemingly reckless self-destructive behavior. Yet I find myself stepping back from easy explanations. Generalizations such as these don’t speak to me as truth, they merely touch the surface. The truth is that each individual has a different story that leads him to participate in this way. Each story has many layers, and these layers fall somewhere on a continuum between what is deemed ‘abnormal’ and ‘normal’ behavior. Although it is convenient to maintain a narrow reactive focus, the fact is that if we truly want to shed light on this subject and to understand, we must use our insight and our knowledge. “Bug Chasers” are members of the human family and it’s important to embrace them as such.

Conscious and Unconscious Intentions
In reflecting on the stories of people I know and have read and heard about, it seems to me that Bug Chasing can be both conscious and unconscious. Such intentions seem to manifest differently in two distinct generations of gay men. The older generation are those who have lived through nearly two decades of loss and grief due to the ravages of HIV. The younger generation of Gay men have not been as affected by the multiple losses which have occurred in our community.

In pointing out this difference, I do not mean to minimize the impact of emotions felt by the younger generation of Gay men about such losses. Rather, I choose these two generations as a marker of differentiation because there seems to be two very different themes that play out in participating in unsafe sexual behavior.

The clinical disorders discussed in this article should not be considered absolute—some characteristics overlap into both generations while some disorders are more clearly present in one than the other. And by the way, and perhaps this will be a surprise to some, research reveals that most of these men, regardless of generation, are well informed and educated.

The Unconscious Intention
I believe that the “Bug Chasers” of the older generation of Gay men may possibly be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The diagnostic criteria in the DSM for PTSD is that the individual “has experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury… and that the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.” The DSM also states, “Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may describe painful guilt feelings about surviving when others did not survive or about the things they had to do to survive.”

Psychologist Walt Odets, in reference to the complex varieties of survivor guilt seen in HIV men, says, “HIV- men tend to be profoundly clinically depressed, anxious, disoriented, hypochondriachal, uncertain about the future, sexually dysfunctional, deeply demoralized and physically numb.” He goes on to say that many HIV men “abuse alcohol or drugs, and their physicians prescribe them millions of dollars worth of tranquilizers, sleeping pills, anti-depressants and sedatives every year.” Finally, Odets finds that more and more uninfected men now “live in nearly every detail like a dying man – disoriented, piecemeal, and with no assumption of the future.”

My own experience bears this out. In the larger Gay ghettos of San Francisco and elsewhere, I have met older Gay men who have lost all of their friends and avoid developing new relationships. Such men live in a world often characterized by increasing isolation, unresolved anger, substance abuse, and a lack of desire to participate in activities they once enjoyed. I recall some men who were HIV- in the late eighties attending support groups where they openly expressed their hopelessness and alienation as they witnessed their friends, their peers, and their generation die. I have witnessed many such individuals express disappointment and despair that they were still alive. I have heard men say it would have been easier to die with the complications of AIDS because living meant having to learn to cope with multiple loss. Add to all of this the terribly revealing fact that, as Michaelangelo Signorile recently wrote, “far too many gay men say they actually fear growing old in a gay world that puts the young and buffed on a pedestal while treating the over-35 crowd like lepers.”

The Intimacy of Bug Chasing
For some men, the desire and quest for intimacy is also bundled into this equation of bug chasing. Some men may fetishize the HIV virus, and act in intimate ways to relate to it, while others may feel so ‘below’ another that they risk their own well being for a fleeting moment of intimacy. In an article in POZ Magazine, Michael Scarce challenges our ideas of what might be considered intimacy when he writes: “Charged Loads…offer a kind of permanent partnership, a connection out-side of time.” He quotes an HIV+ man as saying, “It turns me on knowing how much he wants my come and how much he’s willing to deal with to get it.” Scarce goes on to state that “the sharing of semen and reclaiming its rich symbolic meanings,” reflects the desire for intimacy.

Sadly, I am skeptical that sharing of this kind can ultimately bring about the level of ongoing intimacy that these men are searching for.

I do not, however, believe that Scarce is advocating bug chasing, per sé, but is wisely presenting us with an opportunity to examine intimacy beyond our narrow understanding of it. We might think that these men are out of their minds, but that judgement is the measure of our own resistance. We need to explore this resistance if we are to understand more completely these men who are undeniably our own. Confronting my own negative judgement, I ask myself, “How dare I project my ideas of intimacy onto another.” After all, isn’t that the same root of oppression towards homosexuality that has occurred throughout this past century?

The Positives of Being HIV Positive
Ian Young, in his article The AIDS Cult and Its Seroconverts, says that many HIV- men think “HIV positives live richer, more complex, more ‘authentic’ lives, get more attention, are better able to take risks including, significantly, the ‘risk of intimacy’ and with such risk-taking, life can be meaningful and full.”

I must confess that my own seroconversion (i.e. becoming HIV+) brought about tremendous grief coupled with a wonderful euphoric sense of liberation, of letting go-a liberation that taught me to love again. I know of many men, including myself, who, when they seroconverted, felt as though they were now encouraged to take better care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Coupled with such feelings, many of these same men also felt as though they were finally supported by the community that they once felt so alienated from. Confirming this, Young writes “An HIV+ test result, or even an AIDS diagnosis, frequently results in a decrease in anxiety!”

Reacting with such positive emotions about such a devastating diagnosis seems quite strange at first, like a reversal in the logic stream. But this isn’t about logic, it’s about very complex psychological and emotional territory. It might be that such positive acceptance of finding oneself HIV positive arises developmentally from previous abnormal conditions. Such conditions might include chronic depression rooted in childhood unhappiness, socially induced guilt, and internalized homophobia. As these conditions develop, the opportunity to fully act out is then presented through barebacking and bug chasing. Seroconversion, in this case, may or may not be the goal.

But it might also be argued that there is a conditioning factor inherent in Gay culture that rewards men for becoming HIV positive, as though it were a rite of passage. If so, this would be a relatively new (within the last 20 years) cultural development, and something that we would do well to bring into the light of consciousness and intention. Is such a self-injurious rite of passage what we want for ourselves? Is it not possible to love and accept one another without having to seroconvert? Without having to die to feel loved?

A More Conscious Intention
It is difficult for me to imagine being young and coming into my sexuality after two decades of AIDS, be it gay, straight, or otherwise. My own sexual liberation twenty years ago held no such fears or threats. I did not have to confront the choice of whether or not to adhere to the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of my sexual expression. Such expression was not desensitized by latex, interrupted with “informed” negotiation, nor stalled by the doubt or mistrust of my partner’s sexual history. Such expression flowed with the rhythms of the heart and the body, not the ticking of an apprehensive mind.

But young people are coming into their sexuality, every day. HIV and AIDS are not new news. Their consciousness and choices are a world apart from what I and my generation experienced. And, given the world of choices and consequences they face, some choose barebacking and even bug chasing.

I think, for most people, it is very easy to demonize these behaviors. I did. My initial thought was that such men suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder which, according to the DSM, is characterized by a “lack of empathy and tendency to be callous, cynical, and contemptuous of the feelings, rights, and suffering of others.” The DSM goes on to say, “These individuals may also be irresponsible and exploitive in their sexual relationships,” and “are more likely than people in the general population to die prematurely by violent means, e.g. suicide, accidents, and homicides.” I assumed that these men had no sense of remorse for the harm they commit, not only to others, but to themselves. I imagined an impulsive behavior and a failure to conform to reasonable social norms. I judged them negatively as being sexually irresponsible, exploitive, and cavalier.

Then I read the February ’99 issue of POZ Magazine. It was dedicated to the subject of barebacking. POZ editor Walter Armstrong states, in reference to barebacking, “There has always been a strong outlaw element in gay sexuality, this is an extension.”

This statement stopped me dead in my tracks. I began to recall the many friends, now dead, who might have been considered sexual outlaws, who might be considered deviant, callous, non-empathetic, or anti-social by those who did not really know them. But I did know them. And was I an “outlaw” as well? As I thought about it, I tried to look more deeply, to understand, and to cultivate the insight I might need to become more compassionate in regards to them, and to myself. As insight and compassion deepened, that negative judgement about barebacking and bug chasing had to be re-examined.

In light of this, I now view barebacking and bugchasing not as Antisocial Personality Disorder, but more as Self Inflicted Violence, or as I prefer to call it, Self Injurious Behavior. This realization turned the question from “how could someone do that?” to “how can I understand and help?”

Seroconversion as a Rite of Passage
As I read through the articles published in POZ, I found the young Gay men who advocated barebacking and bug chasing to be somewhat cavalier. The glamorization, eroticization, and the claims of deeper levels of intimacy made by these men would lead one to believe that they are indeed making informed choices in their sexual behavior. Consider, for example, this plea by Tony Valenzuela. In speaking about the practice of barebacking, he states, “We need to trust that young gay men will be wise in their decisions. They’re not passive victims …. It’s a huge disrespect to do otherwise.”

Can we trust that young gay men are “wise in their decisions” when they engage in barebacking? If so, are we able to extend such a trust to young gay men who are bug chasers?

I do want to extend the trust that Tony Valenzuela and others ask for. At the same time, I don’t accept all of these claims entirely at face value. My fear is that, if I were to do so, I wouldn’t be getting to the deeper truth of this issue.

To their credit, bareback advocates are at last speaking out about the behavior that has been quietly hidden away in the closet for the past two decades, and on the surface it is informed. But I believe there are others, not so outspoken, who may be equally informed, but whose intention and experience may be seen in the light of Self Injurious Behavior.

For example, in the summer of 1999 I attended the Gay Men’s Health Summit in Boulder Colorado. I recall speaking to a twenty year old man who openly shared with me his feelings of wanting to seroconvert. “I don’t know why, I honestly don’t know why.” Informed, educated, but where is the depth of insight to such desire? What’s driving it?

Self Injurious Behavior may have several motivations. From the web site <www.palace.net> I found several points to consider that shed light on bug chasing. Self injurers say that their behavior offers: “escape from emptiness, depression … relief from intense feelings… an expression of emotional pain … escaping numbness … a feeling of euphoria… a relief of anger… a sense of control over one’s body… expressing or coping with feeling of alienation.”

We’re right back to that self-injurious rite of passage. For many men, being gay in the 1990’s is equated with being HIV+. Such thinking has divided our community, creating strong feelings of alienation and anger for many who are HIV- . How to heal this rift? By seroconverting, many men believe that they will finally be supported by the community they once felt alienated from.

Michael Scarce writes “barebacking is equated with ‘breeding’ and infection with ‘impregnation.’ Some HIV bug chasers have gone so far as to consciously choose the individual gift-giver who will ‘father’ their HIV infection.” Such a rite of passage for some undoubtedly completes their identification with being gay and deepens their role as a member of the community.

I believe many Gay men experience a great deal of internalized shame and anger through awakening to, and acceptance of, their sexuality in a homophobic society. The resulting Self Injurious Behavior paradoxically provides an individual with an opportunity to nurture himself, “to make internal wounds external and to nurture and heal these wounds. . . it is much easier to take care of a visible, tangible wound than to care for internal or emotional damage,” according to web site <www.cymax.com>.

Living with the constant fear of becoming HIV+ or dying with complications of AIDS often manifests in internalized anger or feelings of numbness. But, paradoxically, a positive HIV test result can provide relief for the person who has seroconverted. I believe what is being relieved is internalized rage, anger, and the numbness produced by excessive fear. The article Protease Dis-inhibitors? quotes a young man as saying, “That awful waiting is gone … Maybe now that I am HIV positive, I can finally have my life.”

For me, it is not so hard to imagine living in such fear and numbness that one feels as though one doesn’t even have a life. As I reflect on my own experience with sincere honesty, I must say that my life prior to HIV was very lonely and empty. It is as though HIV enabled me to discover the depths of myself and a new depth of connection with the greater human family through all of our suffering, not just my own.

Something Absolute
I am the “Bug Chaser.” I am every man spoken of in this article. I am the man who has witnessed so many die while wishing that I was dying, too. I was once the hopeless, the depressed, the alienated, the physically numb. I was the one who could care less about the future; the one who felt so below another that I would put my life in jeopardy for that fleeting moment of intimacy. I was the man who slept with infected men, who had unprotected sex with these men, through the haze of alcohol, drugs, desire, and anger. I was the man who demonized my own behavior and hated myself for such behavior. I was the man who was asking for help in so many conscious and unconscious ways. I am the man whose life became full, whose life became meaningful after my seroconversion. I am the man who finally got his life back through a glimpse of liberation when I realized the depths of impermanence. I am the man who wanted to share the intimacy of suffering together and of healing together, and I am the man who knows true intimacy now.

So often we grasp for absolutes, for that which is “right,” that which is “wrong,” that which is “normal,” that which is “abnormal.” But in our grasping, we set ourselves apart and bolster ourselves there with what appears to be “fact” or “truth,” and our own personal experience. It’s a thin security.

I began my research into the behavior of bug chasing by turning to the wisdom of psychology to try to understand. But I have learned that, to get to the whole truth, we must let go of the definitions and the story, let go of the “bug chasers,” for ultimately their story is not qualitatively different from the story of smokers, drug addicts, alcoholics and the rest of “us.” Their story is little different from those who drive their cars too fast, or choose not to wear a seat belt, or use cell phones that cause brain tumors. Everyone is in the closet about something. The only real difference is the demonization of their behavior-and that’s not about “them,” it’s about us. It is easy to condemn others for what they do, but are we able to own our own self-destructive tendencies, conscious or unconscious? Bug chasers are members of the human race, like everyone else.

I once was taught that when we ask for help, we create the opportunity for love to be expressed in the world. I think back to the eighties and how we continually asked for help then. It is true that we were often ignored, but it is equally true that we were often heard. I have witnessed a great deal of love manifested in the world in this way. I know how difficult it is for me to ask for help. More often than not, the difficulty is identifying what I need help with and learning to articulate it.

That which is absolute is the truth of our own hearts. That which is absolute is our willingness to look deeply into our own resistance and love what we discover there. In my journey, through researching and writing this article, I have had to come face to face with a tremendous amount of grief, a tremendous amount of self-demonization, a tremendous amount of truth that I had ignored for far too many years. It is difficult to love this part of myself but it becomes easier each time I re-read the words written here. It is through the cultivation of this love that I will be able to love my gay brothers who share this experience with me, and this I know as absolute.

Daniel Hill is a recent graduate of the Naropa University in Boulder Colorado earning a B.A. in Religious Studies and Contemplative Psychology. He currently attends Iliff School of Theology in Denver working towards a Masters in Divinity. He can be reached by eMail, or by snail mail at PO Box 300382, Denver CO. 80203.

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Bug Chasers

Posted by pozlife on July 12, 2008

The men who long to be HIV+

Gregory A. FreemanPosted Jan 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Carlos nonchalantly asks whether his drink was made with whole or skim milk. He takes a moment to slurp on his grande Caffe Mocha in a crowded Starbucks, and then he gets back to explaining how much he wants HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. His eyes light up as he says that the actual moment of transmission, the instant he gets HIV, will be “the most erotic thing I can imagine.” He seems like a typical thirty-two-year-old man, but, in fact, he has a secret life. Carlos is chasing the bug.

“I know what the risks are, and I know that putting myself in this situation is like putting a gun to my head,” he says. Some of that mountain music that’s so popular is playing, making the moment even more surreal as a Southern voice sings, “Keep on the sunny side of life” behind Carlos. “But I think it turns the other guy on to know that I’m negative and that they’re bringing me into the brotherhood. That gets me off, too.”

I met Carlos in New York’s Greenwich Village, the neighborhood where he usually hangs out. He is tall, with a large build, and plenty of gay men find him attractive. His longish, curly-wavy hair is jet-black with golden highlights, and his face is soft and just a bit feminine. He has a very appealing smile and laugh, and he’s a funny guy sometimes. The conversation veers from the banal — his fascination with the reality show The Amazing Race — to his desire for HIV. Carlos’ tone never changes when switching from one topic to the other.

When asked whether he is prepared to live with HIV after that “erotic” moment, Carlos dismisses living with HIV as a minor annoyance. Like most bug chasers, he has the impression that the virus just isn’t such a big deal anymore: “It’s like living with diabetes. You take a few pills and get on with your life.” Carlos spends the afternoon continually calling a man named Richard, someone he met on the Internet. They met on barebackcity.com about a year ago, while Carlos was still with his boyfriend. That boyfriend left because Carlos was having sex with other men and because he was interested in barebacking — the practice of having sex without a condom. Carlos and Richard are arranging a “date” for later that day.

Carlos is part of an intricate underground world that has sprouted, driven almost completely by the Internet, in which men who want to be infected with HIV get together with those who are willing to infect them. The men who want the virus are called “bug chasers,” and the men who freely give the virus to them are called “gift givers.” While the rest of the world fights the AIDS epidemic and most people fear HIV infection, this subculture celebrates the virus and eroticizes it. HIV-infected semen is treated like liquid gold. Carlos has been chasing the bug for more than a year in a topsy-turvy world in which every convention about HIV is turned upside down. The virus isn’t horrible and fearsome, it’s beautiful and sexy — and delivered in the way that is most likely to result in infection. In this world, the men with HIV are the most desired, and the bug chasers will do anything to get the virus — to “get knocked up,” to be “bred” or “initiated into the brotherhood.”

Like a lot of sexual fetishes and extreme behaviors, bug chasing could not exist without the Internet, or at least it couldn’t thrive. Prior to the advent of Web surfing and e-mail, it would have been practically impossible for bug chasing to happen in any great numbers, because it’s still not acceptable to walk up to a stranger and say you want the virus. But the Internet’s anonymity and broad access make it possible to find someone with like interests, no matter how outlandish. Carlos surfs online about twenty hours a week looking for men to have sex with, usually frequenting sites such as bareback.com and barebackcity.com, plus a number of Internet discussion groups. Most of the Web sites use the pretense that they actually are about barebacking, which is in itself risky and controversial but still a long way from bug chasing. For the Web sites, that distinction is at best razor-thin and more often just an outright lie. “We got Poz4Poz, Neg4Neg and bug chasers looking to join the club,” the welcome page to barebackcity.com, which claims 48,000 registered users, up from 28,000 about a year ago, recently said. “Be the first to seed a newbie and give him a pozitive attitude!”

Within this online community, bug chasers revel in their desires, using their own lingo about “poz” and “neg” men, “bug juice” and “conversion” from negative to positive. User profiles include names such as BugChaser21, Knockmeup, BugMeSoon, ConvertMeSir, PozCum4NegHole and GiftGiver. The posters are upfront about seeking HIV, even extremely enthusiastic, possibly because the Web sites are about the only place a bug seeker can really express his desires openly. Under turn-ons, a poster called PozMeChgo craves a “hot poz load deep in me. I really want to be converted!! Breed me/seed me!” Carlos’ profile on one Web site lists his screen name as ConvertMe, and he says he wants a man “to fill me up with that poison seed.” His AOL Instant Messenger name is Bug Juice Wanted.

It’s not uncommon to see people post replies to the profiles encouraging the men to seek HIV. One such comment reads, “This guy knows what he wants!! I would love to plant my seeds :)) Come and join the club. The more we are, the stronger we are.” A Yahoo! spokeswoman confirms that the company shuts down such sites when it receives notice that the subscribers are promoting HIV infection or any other kind of harm to one another, but the company doesn’t go looking for bug chasers in its thousands of discussion groups, most established by subscribers themselves. Recently, it was easy to find two discussion groups on Yahoo! that promoted bug chasing, one called barebackover50 and one called gayextremebareback. The first discussion group was established in 1998 and had 1,439 members at the end of 2002. Yahoo! closed the group after Rolling Stone inquired about it.

Condoms and safe sex are openly ridiculed on bug-chasing Web sites, with many bug chasers rebelling against what they see as the dogma of safe-sex education; constantly thinking about a deadly disease takes all the fun out of sex, they say, and condoms suck. Carlos agrees and says getting HIV will make safe sex a moot point. “It’s about freedom,” he says. “What else can happen to us after this? You can fuck whoever you want, fuck as much as you want, and nothing worse can happen to you. Nothing bad can happen after you get HIV.”

For some, the chase is a pragmatic move. They see HIV infection as inevitable because of their unsafe sex or needle sharing, so they decide to take control of the situation and infect themselves. It’s empowering. They’re no longer victims waiting to be infected; rather they are in charge of their own fates. For others, deliberately infecting themselves is the ultimate taboo, the most extreme sex act left on the planet, and that has a strong erotic appeal for some men who have tried everything else. Still others feel lost and without any community to embrace them, and they see those living with HIV as a cohesive group that welcomes its new members and receives vast support from the rest of the gay community, and from society as a whole. Bug chasers want to be a part of that club. Some want HIV because they think once they have it they can go on with a wild, uninhibited sex life without constant fears of the virus. Getting the bug opens the door to sexual nirvana, they say. Others can’t stand the thought of being so unlike their HIV-positive lover.

For Carlos, bug chasing is mostly about the excitement of doing something that everyone else sees as crazy and wrong. Keeping this part of his life secret is part of the turn-on for Carlos, which is not his real name. That forbidden aspect makes HIV infection incredibly exciting for him, so much so that he now seeks out sex exclusively with HIV-positive men. “This is something that no one knows about me,” Carlos says. “It’s mine. It’s my dirty little secret.” He compares bug chasing to the thrill that you get by screwing your boyfriend in your parents’ house, or having sex on your boss’ desk. You’re not supposed to do it, and that’s exactly what makes it so much fun, he says, laughing.

Carlos carries another secret that he says heightens the thrill of pursuing HIV. Sometimes he volunteers in the offices of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the pre-eminent HIV-prevention and AIDS-activist organization in New York. And about once a month, he does outreach volunteering in which he goes to clubs to hand out condoms and educate men about safe sex.

Carlos should meet Doug Hitzel, but he probably never will. A year ago they might have been online buddies, both sharing a passion for HIV that few others understood. Now Hitzel understands all too clearly what bug chasing can do to a young man’s life, but it’s too late for him. After six months of bug chasing, Hitzel succeeded in getting the virus. He’s now a twenty-one-year-old freshman at a Midwestern university, so wholesome-looking you’d think he just walked out of a cornfield.

Hitzel’s experience started when he moved from his home in Nebraska to San Francisco with his boyfriend. When that relationship broke up, Hitzel was at the lowest point in his life, and alone. He sought relief in drugs and sex, as much of each as he could get. At first, he started out just not caring whether he got HIV or not, then he found the bug-chasing underground and embraced it. He was sure he’d get HIV soon anyway. He thought he would always feel exactly like he did then; he was certain that ten, twenty, thirty years later he’d still be partying every night. It lasted only six months — then Hitzel got sick with awful flulike symptoms and lost a lot of weight. A doctor’s visit cleared him of hepatitis and other possible problems, but the clinic sent him home with an HIV test he could do himself. Hitzel waited before doing the test and decided to go home to Nebraska, to give up the bug chasing and the rest of the life that was killing him. Once he got home, he did the test and found out he was positive. He now wakes up each day with a terrible frustration that’s just below the surface of his once sunny demeanor. He hates the medication he has to take every day, and he realizes that HIV affects nearly every part of his life. While he was bug chasing, Hitzel couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be in a relationship again. But now that he’s getting his life back in order, he realizes that being HIV-positive can be a roadblock to new relationships.

“Whenever I have to deal with things like medication, days when I’m really down,” Hitzel says, “I have to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You did this. Are you happy now?’ That’s the one line that goes through my head: ‘Are you happy now?’ ” He says it with a snarl, full of anger. “Some days I feel really angry and guilty. I’m pretty much adjusted to the fact that this is my life, but about forty percent of the time I look at myself and say, ‘Look what you’ve done. Happy now?’ ”

Looking back on it, Hitzel says he was committing suicide by chasing HIV, killing himself slowly because he didn’t have the nerve to do it quickly. Hitzel is ashamed and embarrassed that he actually sought HIV, but he’s willing to tell his story because he hopes to dissuade others who are on the same path. He gets angry when he hears bug chasers talking in the same ways he talked a year earlier. The mention of “bug chasing” and “gift giving” sets him off.

” ‘Bug chasing’ sounds like a group of kindergartners running around chasing grasshoppers and butterflies,” Hitzel says, “a beautiful thing. And gift giving? What the hell is that? I just wish the terms would actually put some real context into what’s going on. Why did I not want to say that I was deliberately infecting myself? Because saying the word infect sounds bad and gross and germy. I wanted it to be sexualized.” He’s particularly angered by the idea of HIV being erotic: “How about you follow me after I start new medications and you watch me throw up for a few weeks? Tell me how erotic that is.”

Though he’s older, Carlos lives a life that has a lot in common with Hitzel’s in San Francisco. Carlos estimates that he has had several hundred sex partners throughout his life, and he routinely hooks up with three or four guys a week, all of them HIV-positive or at least uncertain about their status.

That’s a common trait among bug chasers, says Dr. Bob Cabaj, director of behavioral-health services for San Francisco County and past president of both the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists. Cabaj (pronounced suh-bye) calls bug chasing “a real phenomenon.” Some bug chasers are more likely to have a defeatist attitude, to think they’ll eventually get HIV anyway, whereas others are more likely to add the element of eroticizing HIV, Cabaj says: “For kids who have had a really hard time fitting in or being accepted, this becomes like a fraternity.”

As a public official, Cabaj is familiar with how the topic makes people uncomfortable. Most AIDS activists prefer to deny that the problem exists to any significant extent, he says: “They don’t want to address that this is a real ongoing issue.”

When I asked about bug chasing, leaders of groups such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Stop AIDS Project, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation weren’t interested in providing much education or increasing public awareness. To the contrary, most were dismissive of the issue and some actively dissuaded me from writing the article at all. A spokeswoman for the Stop AIDS Project, Shana Krochmal, characterized bug chasing as “relatively minor acting-out” and aggressively encouraged me to drop the article idea altogether, saying the issue is “not big enough to warrant a trend story.” Krochmal cautioned against focusing on “just a bunch of really vocal guys who want to continue this image of being reckless, hedonistic gay men who will do anything to get laid. I think that does a disservice to the community at large.” The San Francisco AIDS Foundation labeled the issue “sensational” and would not provide further comment. GLAAD spokeswoman Cathy Renna was more helpful, saying she had heard enough about bug chasing to be concerned, emphasizing that her group’s focus would be whether people use bug chasing as an easy way to disparage all gays and lesbians as sex-crazed and reckless. “The vast majority of the gay community would be just as surprised and appalled by this as anyone else,” she says.

At GMHC, where Carlos is one of more than 7,000 volunteers, spokesman Marty Algaze calls bug chasing “one of those very underground subcultures or fetishes that seems to have sprung up in recent years.” The assistant director of community education at GMHC, Daniel Castellanos, acknowledges that bug chasing exists but claims there’s not much need to discuss it because it involves such a small population. But would he try to talk a bug chaser out of trying to get HIV? “If someone comes to me and says he wants to get HIV, I might work with him around why he wants to do it,” he says. “But if in the end that’s a decision he wants to make, there’s a point where we have to respect people’s decisions.”

Cabaj, the San Francisco psychiatrist, says those arguments sound familiar. Then, without being asked, he adds, “But I don’t know if it’s an active cover-up.” He pauses for a moment, then continues, “Yeah, it’s an active cover-up, because they know about it. They’re in denial of this issue. This is a difficult issue that dredges up some images about gay men that they don’t want to have to deal with. They don’t want to shine a light on this topic because they don’t want people to even know that this behavior exists.”

Public-health officials also tend to dismiss the bug-chasing phenomenon, he adds, assuming that it is just an aberration practiced by a few, nothing more than a curiosity. Cabaj adamantly disagrees, though he admits numbers are very hard to come by. Some men consciously seek the virus, openly declaring themselves bug chasers, he says, while many more are just as actively seeking HIV but are in denial and wouldn’t call themselves bug chasers. Cabaj estimates that at least twenty-five percent of all newly infected gay men fall into that category.

With about 40,000 new infections in the United States per year, according to government reports, that would mean around 10,000 each year are attributable to that more liberal definition of bug chasing. Doug Hitzel says he fits that description. Though he now says he was a bug chaser for six months, he explains that he would not have admitted it to anyone outside the subculture, and he sometimes even lied to himself about what he was doing. Even if you consider only the number of self-proclaimed bug chasers and not the overall group of men seeking HIV, Cabaj still sees cause for concern because of the way one bug chaser’s quest can spread the virus far beyond his own life. “It may be a small number of actual people, but they may be disproportionately involved in continuing the spread of HIV,” he says. “That’s a major issue when you’re talking about how to control the spread of a virus. A small percentage could be responsible for continuing the infection. The clinical impact is profound, no matter how small the numbers.”

The problem is not restricted to any one community. Cabaj’s counterpart in Boston reports a similar experience with bug chasers. Dr. Marshall Forstein is medical director of mental health and addiction services at Fenway Community Health, an arm of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that specializes in care for gay and lesbian patients. Forstein is on the medical-school faculty in psychiatry at Harvard University and chaired the American Psychiatric Association’s Commission on AIDS for eleven years. He says bug chasers are seen regularly in the Fenway health system, and the phenomenon is growing. He adds that bug chasers can be found in any major city, though officials might be reluctant to discuss the issue either because it is unseemly or because it has escaped their notice. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Health confirms that bug chasers are known in its health system. Public-health officials in New York refused multiple requests for comment.

One standout in public-health circles is the Miami-Dade County Health Department in Florida, which is taking steps specifically to address bug chasing. Evelyn Ullah, director of its office of HIV/AIDS, readily admits that bug chasing is “a definite problem” in the Miami area, having become more common and more visible in the past few years. Miami health officials regularly monitor Internet sites for bug chasing in their community, and they keep track of “conversion parties,” in which the goal is to have positive men infect negative men. The health department also is launching new outreach efforts that include going online to chat with bug chasers and others pursuing risky sex.

Cabaj and Forstein stress that more should be done, particularly on a national level. For starters, federal health officials will have to familiarize themselves with the problem. Dr. Robert Janssen, director of the division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, says he has never seen the Web sites that promote bug chasing and does not know of any organized efforts to spread the virus. There is virtually no research on people who intentionally seek HIV, he says, but he notes that several studies have shown a growing complacency among gay men and the population in general about the risk of HIV and a misconception that HIV infection is completely manageable. Ongoing outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea (which Carlos recently had) in large cities indicate a tendency to forgo condom use, he says. Recent data from the CDC show that syphilis rates among men in the United States rose 15.4 percent between 2000 and 2001, which the researchers attribute to outbreaks among gay and bisexual men in several U.S. cities. Janssen says the CDC has not addressed bug chasing in any way but might if researchers determine that it is a significant method of spreading the virus. “I’m interested that you’re saying there’s that much out there on the Web and that it’s easy to find,” Janssen says. “If we can confirm that it’s happening to any real degree beyond just an anecdote here and there, we may need to address it.”

What frustrates health-care professionals the most, Forstein says, is that “gay men who are doing this haven’t a clue what they’re doing,” he says. “They’re incredibly selfish and self-absorbed. They don’t have any idea what’s going on with the epidemic in terms of the world or society or what impact their actions might have. The sense of being my brother’s keeper is never discussed in the gay community because we’ve gone to the extreme of saying gay men with HIV can do no wrong. They’re poor victims, and we can’t ever criticize them.”

Furthering the epidemic doesn’t bother Carlos. Bug chasing requires a great deal of self-delusion, and he easily acknowledges the contradictions in what he’s doing. He notes that while he seeks HIV, he doesn’t eat junk food or smoke, and that he drinks only socially. “I take care of myself,” he says proudly. He also notes the hypocrisy in his doing volunteer work at GMHC, in which he tells other men to use condoms and practice safe sex, while he’s hunting for partners for his secret hobby. The conflict doesn’t bother him in the least.

Forstein says that attitude is disastrous for gay men. “We’re killing each other,” he says. “It’s no longer just the Matthew Shepards that are dying at the hands of others. We’re killing each other. We have to take responsibility for this as a community.”

After several phone calls to work out a time, Carlos is ready to go see Richard. He’s had sex with Richard about thirty times in the past year. “Knowing he’s positive just makes it more fun for me,” he says. “It’s erotic that someone is breeding me.” Richard is in the entertainment business, in his mid- to late forties.

“Lots of guys want to know who breeds them,” Carlos continues. “When I have sex, I like to always make it special, a really good time, something nice and memorable in case that is the one that gives it to me.”

Carlos offers, not for the first time, to have me come along and watch him and Richard have sex, but I decline. In the taxi to Richard’s place, the conversation falls silent. He hasn’t been tested in a couple of years, and he’s reluctant to get a test now. He might very well be positive already. But as long as he doesn’t know for sure, he can always hope that tonight is the night he gets the virus. Every date is potentially The One. Stepping out of the cab into the rain, I ask what he will do if he finds out one day that he has succeeded in being infected — ending the fun of being a bug chaser. He stops, then says he might move on to being a gift giver: “If I know that he’s negative and I’m fucking him, it sort of gets me off. I’m murdering him in a sense, killing him slowly, and that’s sort of, as sick as it sounds, exciting to me

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Therapeutic Vaccine Tanks in Study

Posted by pozlife on July 12, 2008

In another setback to HIV immunization research, the ALVAC 1452 therapeutic vaccine led to higher viral loads and less time off antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in HIV-positive patients in a study published in the July 11 issue of AIDS and reported by AIDSmap.
Therapeutic vaccines have a long history in AIDS research. Experts have been using various types of vaccines to stimulate the immune systems of people living with HIV—notably those with undetectable viral loads while on ARV treatment—in hopes that the new, more robust immune responses will help control viral replication in the absence of therapy. This theory was supported with the positive results of an earlier vaccine candidate, ALVAC 1433.
With the newer vaccine, Brigitte Autran, MD, from the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) in Paris, and her colleagues enrolled 66 people taking ARV treatment with CD4 counts over 350. Twenty-two people were given four doses of ALVAC 1452 over a 20-week period, 22 people received three doses, and 22 were given placebo.
Four weeks after the last dose of the vaccine or placebo, 56 of the 66 patients chose to stop ARV treatment. They agreed to restart treatment if their CD4 count dropped either below 250 or more than 50 percent from when they started the study, or if their viral load climbed above 50,000.
Autran’s team found that patients who received the vaccine ended up with much higher viral loads than patients who received a placebo, and that those who got four doses of the vaccine had higher viral loads even than those who got just three doses. Moreover, people who got four doses of the vaccine were four times as likely as the placebo group to have to restart ARV treatment.
As with the failure of the Merck preventive vaccine, it appears that the vaccine-induced immune stimulation actually harmed people more than it helped them, and Autran’s team state that they are keen to discover the reasons why this occurred.

Search: ALVAC 1452, ALVAC 1433, therapeutic vaccine, Brigitte Autran, INSERM

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