HIV Disproportionately Affecting African Americans, CDC Report Says
Although the rate of new HIV infections has remained constant over the past four years, the virus is disproportionately affecting African Americans, particularly heterosexual African-American women and gay African-American men, according to new CDC data presented yesterday at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, the Los Angeles Times reports. In his address at the opening session of the conference, Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, presented new CDC statistics on HIV infection in 25 states. According to the data, African Americans account for 54% of all new HIV infections and 75% of new HIV infections among heterosexuals in the United States, even though they represent only 12% of the U.S. population. In addition, although Latinos represent less than 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 19% of the country's new HIV infections. Twenty-six percent of new HIV infections occur among caucasians. The number of new HIV infections in the United States has remained steady over the past several years, averaging about 40,000 new infections annually since 1998 (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 7/8).
"Today's epidemic is very different from the one we faced a decade ago. The populations at risk, the attitudes about infection and the science of HIV have all changed. And so must our prevention efforts," Valdiserri said. The demographic shift of the virus is not simply racial, he said, noting that more infections are occurring among heterosexuals. New HIV infections among heterosexuals rose 10% between 1998 and 2000, Valdiserri said ( AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/8). Heterosexuals account for 33% of new HIV infections, while men who have sex with men represent 42% and injection drug users account for 25%. Valdiserri noted that the CDC statistics may not be complete because they do not include data from California, Florida and New York, three states that have higher populations of African Americans and Latinos. The CDC is currently organizing a new national recording system to "more accurately estimate" the rise of new HIV infections in the country. The program is being tested at five sites and will be expanded nationally next year, Valdiserri said (Los Angeles Times, 7/8).
HIV-Positive Young Gay Men Largely Unaware of HIV Status
In a separate study presented yesterday at the conference, CDC researchers said that the majority of HIV-positive young gay and bisexual men in the United States were not aware they were infected with the virus, and minority gay men are the least likely to be aware of their status, the New York Times reports. CDC researchers interviewed 5,719 men between the ages of 15 and 29 at dance clubs, bars and "other places frequented by gays" in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Seattle. The men received HIV tests, and 573 tested positive for the virus. Among those who tested positive, 440 men, or 70% of participants, said they did not know they were infected. Ninety percent of African-American participants and 70% of Hispanic participants who were found to have HIV were unaware they had the virus, compared to 60% of whites (Altman, New York Times, 7/8). In addition, 59% of participants who tested positive said they believed they were at "low" or "very low" risk for HIV infection. Perceived low risk for HIV infection and fear of learning their HIV status were the two main reasons that young African-American participants said they had not been tested for the virus, Duncan MacKellar, an epidemiologist with the CDC and lead study author, said (Carrns, Wall Street Journal, 7/8). Although the results of the tests were available to the participants, it is not known how many men sought the results or learned that they had the virus (New York Times, 7/8). MacKellar said that several outreach programs in New York, New Jersey and Seattle are "having some success" in getting young, homosexual blacks and Latinos tested for HIV, but he added that more needs to be done (Wall Street Journal, 7/8). Phill Wilson, executive director of the African-American AIDS Policy and Training Institute in Los Angeles, said that more research is needed to convey "the best prevention messages" to gay African-American men (New York Times, 7/8).
Valdiserri stated that the CDC studies demonstrate that new prevention efforts are needed and that Americans need to fight HIV/AIDS with the same vigor shown nearly two decades ago. He said many Americans are "complacen[t]" because they believe that antiretroviral drugs have made HIV a "treatable" infection. "Americans ... don't have the same sense of urgency or crisis which characterized the early years of the epidemic. Some are becoming bored with HIV after 20 years, some are simply tired of the messages and behavior change. And many didn't realize they were signing on for a lifetime of condom use," he said (Ross, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/8). He noted that although two-thirds of HIV-positive individuals in the United States are sexually active, between 25% and 43% of this group practices unprotected sex "at least part of the time" (Los Angeles Times, 7/8). Valdiserri added that the U.S. population "can't sit back and wait for a vaccine," but must instead "renew" HIV prevention efforts. "We must revive the passion with which the United States once faced the HIV epidemic, with a strong and preeminent focus on preventing the spread of the virus," he concluded (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/8). HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson told conference attendees yesterday that the Bush administration plans to make anti-AIDS efforts a high priority. "No administration in any nation has ever made fighting HIV/AIDS as high a priority as this administration," he said, noting that U.S. government funding represents more than 40% of donor aid spent of HIV/AIDS worldwide (Garrett, Newsday, 7/8).