Measuring the prevalence of autistic traits in a cohort of adults living with HIV or taking HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis and mapping safer-sex barriers and facilitators: a study protocol

Veerle Huyst, Jeroen Dewinter, Ilse Noens, Tom Platteau, Achilleas Tsoumanis

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INTRODUCTION: Autistic individuals identify with a wider range of sexual orientations than non-autistic individuals, including higher rates of bisexual orientation in autistic men. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are at greater risk for HIV. Prevalence data of autistic traits in people living with HIV or using Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV are lacking so far. Such data, combined with insights in barriers and facilitators for safer sex in autistic people living with HIV or using PrEP, are a first step to improve health support for autistic people in HIV clinics. This support is crucial since autistic individuals have worse physical and mental health outcomes. The objective of this research is to determine the prevalence of autistic traits within the group of people living with HIV or using PrEP in Belgium and to describe specific facilitators and barriers for sexual safer behaviour in people living with HIV and PrEP users with autistic traits.

METHODS AND ANALYSIS: The research is a cross-sectional, observational and multicentre study with recruitment of individual participants. The research consists of two phases. In phase 1, adults coming for HIV/AIDS care or HIV PrEP in participating Belgian HIV Reference Centres will be invited to fill in the validated Autism Spectrum Quotient questionnaire. In phase 2, participants with a score above the predefined cut-off for autistic traits (>26), who agreed to be informed about this score, will be invited to complete an additional survey, inquiring facilitators and barriers for sexual safer behaviour.

ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION OF RESULTS: Institutional Review Board Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp, 25 July 2022, REF 1601/22 and University Hospital of Antwerp, 12 September 2022, Project ID 3679: BUN B3002022000111. Study results will be published in peer-reviewed journals and presented to Belgian HIV Reference Centres and at conferences.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere075667
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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