Background: Men who have sex with men (MSM) experience more than half of U.S. HIV infections annually. Targeted control strategies, including identifying venues with ongoing HIV transmission, are needed. The internet as a sex partner meeting venue has been associated with higher risk behavior among MSM. Surveillance efforts, however, traditionally focus on physical venues which may miss key places for targeted control. The objective was to identify individual characteristics and utilization patterns associated with reported sex partner meeting venues among newly diagnosed HIV-infected MSM.
Methods: Public health surveillance data of newly diagnosed MSM between January 2011 and April 2013 (N=167) was utilized. Data included reported past-year sex partner meeting venues. We compared characteristics of those reporting internet-based, physical, or physical and internet-based venues and, in a sub-analysis, available viral load data (October 2012 to April 2013) by the three groups.
Results: Eighty-five percent of subjects were Black and 33% were <24 years-old; 46% reported meeting partners at physical venues (bar/club/park/street), 41% internet-based venues (website/mobile-app), and 13% both venue types. There were no significant differences by race or age among the groups; however those reporting both venue types (vs. one type) were significantly more likely to report >5 sex partners and more commonly (not significant) infected with syphilis (59% vs. 49% in the other two groups). Viral load data was available on 13%. Individuals reporting both venue types had a higher, not significant, median viral load at diagnosis (51,387), than those reporting internet-based (4,734) or physical (16,171) venues.
Conclusions: While demographically similar to individuals using one venue type, MSM meeting sex partners at both venue types may be at greater risk for HIV transmission based on greater sex partners, syphilis prevalence, and median viral load. Exploring this population may improve understanding of Baltimore’s MSM epidemic and provide important targets for HIV control efforts.