HIV-AIDS workers in Winnipeg are concerned that infection rates are rising because young gay men are having unprotected sex, and don't believe they're at risk of contracting the deadly virus.
John Major, president of the local advocacy group Gio's Cares, told CBC News that he estimates 10 per cent of the people the group deals with are not using condoms to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus.
Major said a number of men aged 19-25 are eschewing condoms out of a belief they are not at risk.
'A lot of the kids or younger adults now think they're invincible and that they cannot get it.' —John Major, president Gio's Cares
Some even go so far as to call contracting HIV "a gift" because they think there's some prestige in having the virus, Major said.
"A lot of the kids or younger adults now think they're invincible and that they cannot get it. And if they do, there's meds out there that will help them live forever," Major said.
Other awareness groups that look out for sex-trade workers have noticed a similar trend, Major said.
"Other organizations, there's a van that travels around the track where there's guys that work and girls that work, and they're not taking the condoms anymore," he said.
Gio's Cares hands out safe sex kits at four gay bars and bathhouses in the city, Major said.
Two to three years ago, it was distributing about 2,300 of the kits every 30 days, but it's more common today to only give out 1,500 a month, Major said.
Colin, a 21-year-old Winnipeg man, told CBC News that he doesn't use condoms and is not afraid of contracting HIV.
"There are guys out there who figure, 'It won't happen to me. It can’t happen to me,'" Colin said.
"They think, 'There aren't enough people my age – the people that I'm sleeping with won't have it because it's all the older generation, right?'"
Last October, Winnipeg’s Nine Circles Community Health Centre (NCCHC) released data showing the rate of HIV-AIDS infections in Manitoba rose by 25 per cent between 2007 and 2008. Totals for 2009 were also expected to climb.
The government released data to the centre that showed:
- From 1985 to 2007, the total number of diagnosed HIV cases in Manitoba was 1,477.
- Women represent 25 per cent of all Manitoba HIV cases since 1985.
- In the last 10 years, women accounted for one-third of all new provincial HIV cases.
- The age of the majority of those testing positive was between 20-39 years.
- Of the 82 new provincial HIV cases in 2007, 55 were male and 27 female.