A social networking group intervention was effective at increasing home-based HIV testing among men who have sex with men, researchers found.
Compared with participants who received general health information through a Facebook group, more men who received information about HIV through a Facebook group requested home-based HIV testing (44% versus 20%, a difference of 24 percentage points, 95% CI 8-41 for difference), according to Sean Young, PhD, of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues.
Of those who requested home-based HIV tests, 36% of those in the HIV Facebook group versus 18% of those in the control group mailed their sample for testing, they wrote online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The authors noted that social networking may be a cost-effective approach to HIV prevention through a peer-leader model, particularly among minority populations and men who have sex with men. In 2011, the CDC noted that annual testing for HIV among men who have sex with men may not be frequent enough.
In 2012, the FDA approved the first home-based, over-the-counter test for HIV, the OraQuick test.
In the current study involving 112 participants, the authors evaluated whether participation in a social networking community would increase HIV testing among black and Latino adult men who have sex with men.
Participants were recruited through online venues, community venues with mostly black and Latino men, and through other participants to join one of two closed Facebook groups operated by peer leaders. Those chosen as peer leaders were screened as friendly, well-respected black and Latino men who had sex with men ages 18 and older, who had had sex with another man in the past 12 months, and who were interested in educating others about health.
Participants were randomized to 12 weeks of communication through one of the two groups: a group for discussing HIV prevention and testing, and another control group that emphasized the importance of exercising, healthy eating, and maintaining a low-stress lifestyle. Participation was voluntary and monitored.
The study population was comprised of 60% Latinos, 28% blacks, 11% whites, and 2% Asians. Participants filled out questionnaires at baseline and after 12 weeks of participation and were informed that they could request a home-based HIV test for free.
Researchers measured acceptance of group membership, engagement in the group, rate of home HIV testing, and sexual risk behaviors.
Requests for free HIV testing were more common among those in the HIV information group than in the control group.
“Because of the sparse data on returned tests and follow-up for test results, statistical analyses of these outcomes are not presented,” the authors explained, though they did find that nine of 25 participants in the HIV group returned their tests and 2 of 11 in the control group returned theirs.
“The active participation of African Americans and Latino men having sex with men suggests that social networking is growing among minority groups and is an acceptable and engaging platform for HIV prevention among at-risk populations,” they concluded.
They also noted that the study was limited by inclusion of two Facebook communities, self-report of location, lack of difference between offline and online risk behavior reductions through peer leader-led groups, use of one social networking site, and lack of a prior “best practice” for online interventions.
The study was supported by the University of California Los Angeles Center for HIV Intervention, Prevention, and Treatment Services; the University of California Los Angeles AIDS Institute; and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Primary source: Annals of Internal Medicine
Source reference: Young SD, et al “Social networking as an emerging tool for HIV prevention” Ann Intern Med 2013; 159(5).