CDC Reports ‘Alarming’ Rate of HIV Among Gay Men, African Americans Hardest Hit
Researchers from the CDC yesterday at the 8th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections announced the results of a six U.S. city study that found "alarming levels" of HIV infection among young gay and bisexual men, particularly African Americans, the Los Angeles Times reports. One in every 10 gay or bisexual men is HIV-positive, and that figure "climbs" to nearly one in every three gay or bisexual African-American men, epidemiologist Linda Valleroy reported. The results of the "first-time" study "surprised" researchers, particularly the high rate among blacks, but researchers point out that the new statistics reflect the "changing nature" of the epidemic, in that more than half of all new infections in the United States now occur in African Americans. Dr. Helen Gayle, chief of the AIDS program at the CDC, called the 30% infection rate among blacks an "amazing statistic," especially because people associate being gay with being white, she said. The study shows that "the people at greatest risk [for HIV infection] are sexually active gay men, and that cuts across all races and ethnicities," Gayle added. Although researchers are "not completely sure" why blacks are hardest hit, they speculated that one reason may be the higher rate of incarceration among blacks. Many men may be exposed to HIV in prison, where the virus is prevalent. Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University School of Medicine also noted that there is a "much greater stigma" associated with being homosexual in the African-American community than among whites (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 2/6). Young black gays "fear that if they 'come out,' they will lose their place in the black community, their safe harbor in a white-dominated society," Dr. Phil Wilson, director of the African-American AIDS Policy and Training Institute at the University of Southern California, said. He added that some gay blacks would equate acknowledging their sexual preferences with "bringing shame on [their] race." Cornelius Baker, director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., said that such attitudes and stigmas result in people "subverting their identity, living double lives and putting themselves -- and their partners -- at risk" (Sternberg, USA Today, 2/6). Jesus Geliga of Dallas' AIDS Resource Center said that young gay minorities may be "hit harder" by HIV because prevention efforts are "historically focused mostly on middle-class whites." He said there is a need for "more than AIDS prevention counseling," adding that many men "don't see themselves at risk" or "believe that they are doomed to infection no matter what they do" (Beil, Dallas Morning News, 2/6).
HIV 'Disturbingly Common' Among Gays
The overall results of the study show HIV to be "disturbingly common" among gay men in their twenties, especially "considering that they grew up knowing how AIDS spreads," the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The survey polled 2,401 gay men ages 23 to 29 from 1998 to 2000 in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Seattle. Although the study "does not reveal whether dangerous sex practices are growing among the young," it does demonstrate that such practices are "common": Nearly half of the men surveyed reported having unprotected anal sex in the previous six months (Haney, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/6). The CDC team performed blood tests and asked the participants about their sexual history and drug use, whether they had used HIV counseling and testing services, whether they were under medical care and what they knew about HIV treatments (Staple, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/6). Of the men in the survey who were found to be HIV-positive, only 29% knew of their status (Los Angeles Times, 2/6). "Even more disturbing," researchers reported, is that 90% of the men said that they had previously undergone an HIV test, "during which they presumably would have received counseling on how to avoid infection" (Dallas Morning News, 2/6). Less than a quarter of the men surveyed were receiving medical care or anti-HIV therapy (Altman, New York Times, 2/6). Some research "suggests" that the "seemingly relentless stream of safe-sex messages [in the media] has had the ironic effect of causing them to become ineffectual -- kind of like white background noise," MSNBC.com reports. Others theorize that the success of "potent" HIV drug combinations in keeping the virus under control is "making gay men feel they are immune" to HIV. According to MSNBC.com, one recent study found that one in five gay men thought the HIV drug treatments "capable of reducing the risk" of HIV transmission, although that has not been proven. The CDC findings demonstrate that "[n]o one can afford complacency," Gayle concluded (Laino, MSNBC.com, 2/5).