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A new study out of the United Kingdom has highlighted that men who have sex with men but are not open about their sexuality are underestimating their risk of contracting HIV, and may be more likely to pass on the virus.

Published in the June 2018 issue of the Lancet HIV, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have said that public health messages should be targeted specifically at this “neglected” group.

The results found that the men who were still in the closet tended to mix with, and acquire infection from each other and not from openly gay men.

Additionally, the men who are potentially fearful of stigmatisation or prejudice, are unlikely to mix in the same social venues as openly gay men and are not likely to disclose that they have sex with other men, and are thought to be less likely to receive prevention messages and are therefore less aware of their HIV risk.

Researchers at the university used a national archive of anonymous data to study patterns of HIV transmission and they analyzed the genetic code of virus samples from more than 60,000 HIV-positive people in the U.K. Scientists were able to create networks of linked infections to see how the virus had spread, Lancet HIV reports.

Earlier work from the same researchers also suggested that 6 per cent of men who claimed to be straight at the time of being diagnosed with HIV had, in fact, become infected through sex with other men.

Ultimately, while the group of men identified in the research tended to have fewer sexual partners and preferred to partner with each other, researchers concluded that such behaviour could lead to them underestimating their risk.

The study also added, that there was little-to-no evidence found of closeted men transmitting the virus to openly gay men or heterosexual women.

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