Virologist urges HIV 'bug chasers' not to infect themselves

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 3:36am

A leading scientist has expressed alarm at a trend in the West in which gay men use social networks to seek HIV-carrying sex partners in order to get infected.

The "bug chasers" are often motivated by a desire to secure life-long medical care and social welfare benefits.

French virologist Francoise Barré-Sinoussi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for her life-long work in fighting Aids, said in an interview with the Post that she was unhappy to see such abuse of valuable medical resources and warned that the people doing it might not be well informed of all the risks.

One group recently set up a Facebook interest page called "Bugchasing" that has been "liked" by more than 1,200 people. A US website that promotes the idea has registered more than 5,000 members.

Another US-based website called "Bug Chaser Personals" has provided services to help people to "hook-up with a bug chaser". It openly advertised on its website and urged people to "live life on the edge".

Some participants in the UK told local media they wanted to be infected to get "a better quality of life because of the [free] medication".

The phenomenon is largely confined to the UK and US.

Barré-Sinoussi, who was in Hong Kong to deliver a speech at the University of Hong Kong Pasteur Research Centre recently, said: "Of course, most patients who are on treatment are doing very well. But there are other health implications."

Thanks to advances in medical technology, more and more HIV-carriers - when they receive good treatment - can survive for decades. This gives rise to the myth that the disease is no longer as dangerous as it once was.

But Barré-Sinoussi warned that people should not overlook the side effects of the treatment. She said about 8 to 15 per cent of HIV-positive people on treatment will more likely die from cancer or other ageing diseases than normal people because of the side effects.

Psychologists have compared such an act as a form of prolonged suicide. Barré-Sinoussi said more should be done in society to understand why these people were doing this.

"Although the treatment is getting better nowadays and the side effect is diminishing, patients still have to take life-long treatment - meaning you will have to take the pills every day.

"Don't you think it is still much better not to be infected than to get treatment every day?" she asked, stressing that prevention should still be the priority of all governments.

According to the World Health Organisation, 34 million people are living with HIV.

In Hong Kong, gay activist Rex Yiu, who is in charge of volunteer gay group Element, said such a practise was very rare among homosexual groups in the West and unheard of here.

He believed people were behaving in such a way to seek excitement and as a form of rebellion against isolation brought on by social discrimination.