King County, Wash., Health Officials Warn of ‘Alarming’ HIV Rate Among Gay Men
Health officials in King County, Wash., yesterday announced their plans to issue a public warning that HIV infection rates "may be increasing at an alarming rate" among the area's gay men, the Seattle Times reports. At a meeting Tuesday with the Governor's Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Bob Wood, AIDS-control officer for public health in Seattle and King County, said that a "new wave" of infections "appears" to be spreading throughout the area. Wood told the committee that the "public perception is that AIDS is cured," adding that the increases are a result of "people relaxing cautions about sexual practices that spread the virus" and "bur[n] out on the safe sex message." Officials plan to brief the county Board of Health today and will present a report on a private December "community summit" meeting on AIDS. A King County/Washington state report shows that the number of HIV-positive blood tests of gay men at Harborview Medical Center's STD clinic, the area's largest such facility, have tripled over the past three years. The area is also experiencing "astonishingly high" rates of syphilis among gay men, according to Wood. Health officials are worried because increases in rates of other STDs usually indicate increases in unprotected sex, and syphilis sores facilitate the transmission of HIV. Wood said that among the approximately 50 men in the area diagnosed with syphilis each year, three-fourths are also HIV-positive. He also cited a 25% increase in "risky" sexual activity since 1995, especially among gay men under 25, as a reason for concern. The summit participants, including 60 public health officials and gay community leaders, suggested focusing on ways to curb unsafe sex in public places such as bathhouses and parks, securing more AIDS-prevention funds and finding ways clinics can better identify and treat HIV patients to help stem the spread of the virus. "The resurgence of STDs and HIV in our community is unacceptable. ... Twenty years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it is clear that Public Health and the (gay and bisexual) community must redouble and revitalize its efforts to prevent further spread of the disease," the report on the summit said. Chuck Kuehn, executive director of the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, said the community cannot become "complacent" because "[w]hile people may have information about prevention, it's no guarantee they'll follow through with it." Other counties in the area are not seeing similar increases in HIV infection rates, state health officials said (King, Seattle Times, 3/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.