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Fact Check-Posts saying straight people are more at risk of HIV infection misrepresent data

New data showing that more heterosexual people are contracting HIV than ever before have been misinterpreted online. Users who say this means heterosexual people are at higher risk than gay or bisexual men of contracting the virus are ignoring the number of infections as a proportion of the two groups of people.

One tweet reads, “Straight people are more at risk of HIV for a week and there’s already a cure” (here), while another says, “HIV now infects more heterosexual people than gay or bisexual men” (here).

The claims seem to be based on a UKHSA report (here), which shows that in 2020 in England, there were 940 HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men and 1,010 in heterosexual people. The report, which acknowledges that COVID-19 changed the patterns of sexual behavior, HIV testing, and access to sexual health and HIV services in 2020, also shows how HIV diagnoses have declined in both groups.

In a piece looking at the data in question (here), The Independent wrote, “While gay and bisexual men are still more impacted by HIV relative to population size, targeted interventions for these groups have led to a significant decrease in transmission.”

While it is true that more heterosexual people were diagnosed with HIV in 2020 than gay and bisexual men in the country, this misses essential context about the number of diagnoses as a proportion of the two populations.

According to 2019 Office of National Statistics (ONS) data (here) the proportion of men in the UK who identified as of gay or bisexual rose to 2.9% (approximately 754,000 men), compared to 93.7 percent of people who identified as heterosexual or straight.

A 2020 report from the European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (see page 12) (here) says that “sex between men remains the predominant mode of HIV transmission.” A report from Public Health England can be seen (here).

VERDICT

Missing context. UK Government data that more heterosexual people were diagnosed with HIV in 2020 than gay and bisexual sex men do not mean the virus now affects straight people more. In proportion to the population size of those who identify as gay or bisexual men, this group remains at elevated risk of contracting the virus.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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