Open Access Research article

Conversation about Serostatus decreases risk of acquiring HIV: results from a case control study comparing MSM with recent HIV infection and HIV negative controls

Claudia Santos-Hövener1*, Ruth Zimmermann1, Claudia Kücherer2, Jörg Bätzing-Feigenbaum13, Stephan Wildner24, Osamah Hamouda1 and Ulrich Marcus1

Author Affiliations

1 Department for Infectious Disease Epidemiology, HIV/AIDS, STI and Blood-borne Infections Unit, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany

2 Department of Infectious Diseases, Unit for HIV and other Retroviruses, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany

3 Central Research Institute of Ambulatory Health Care in Germany, Berlin, Germany

4 INTERLAB central lab services - worldwide GmbH, Munich, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:453  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-453

Published: 14 May 2014



Data on knowledge, attitudes, behaviour and practices (KABP) of persons with recent HIV infection compared to controls with negative HIV test result provide information on current risk patterns and can help to re-focus HIV prevention strategies.


From March 2008 through May 2010, persons newly diagnosed with HIV (cases) and HIV-negative controls were recruited by physicians in Germany. To distinguish recent (< 5 months) from longstanding (> 5 months) infection, dried blood spots from people newly diagnosed with HIV were tested with the BED IgG-capture ELISA. Cases and controls completed a KABP-questionnaire. We compared cases with recent infection and controls among men having sex with men (MSM) regarding reported risk behaviour in the previous 6 months. To detect differences, unadjusted Odds Ratios (OR) were calculated and multivariate analysis was performed.


Cases and controls did not differ in terms of knowledge on transmission risks, HIV testing frequency, partnership status, or regarding the frequency of any unprotected sex with partners known to be HIV-positive or assumed to be HIV-negative. Cases more often reported a shorter duration of partnership (< 6 months) with a primary partner than controls (OR = 3.9; p = 0.003) and indicated lower rates of condom use outside of primary relationships, with acquaintances (OR = 2.5; p = 0.01), and with persons met online (OR = 4.5; p = 0.04). Unprotected sex with persons of unknown HIV-serostatus was more often indicated by cases than controls (OR = 3.0; p = 0.003). Having a conversation about HIV serostatus before having sex was associated with a lower risk of infection (OR = 0.2; p = 0.01). In multivariate analysis “being always safe” (always using a condom when having sex in different situations outside of a relationship) and talking about serostatus before sex (OR = 0.23; p = 0.004; OR = 0.14; p = 0.014) were negatively associated with HIV- infection.


There were no significant differences regarding knowledge about HIV-transmission risks among cases and controls. Differences in risk behaviour were observed regarding unprotected sex with partners of unknown HIV-serostatus and duration of primary partnership at the time of diagnosis, suggesting some HIV-transmissions occurring in newly formed partnerships. The practice of discussing serostatus with prospective sex partners before engaging in sex seems to be protective for HIV-transmission.

MSM; KABP; Transmission risk; Serosorting; Recent HIV infection; Case control study