Number of New HIV Cases in Minnesota Rose 6% From 2001 to 2002, Health Department Officials Say
The number of new HIV cases in Minnesota rose 6% in 2002, compared with 2001 figures, due in part to an "alarming" increase in the number of new infections among African immigrants in the state, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. According to Department of Health data released on Tuesday, the state recorded 65 new HIV cases among African-born immigrants last year, compared with 46 new cases in 2001 (Marcotty, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 4/16). Health officials have said that a "silence" surrounds HIV/AIDS within the state's African immigrant community because many people "are bound by tradition and hold fast to religious taboos against discussing premarital sex and homosexuality" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/30/02). But the state is working to address the problem and in December 2002 began sending African-born educators to community centers and churches throughout the state to provide prevention information and offer HIV testing, the Star Tribune reports. Elizabeth Namarra, a state health department liaison to African community groups, said, "It used to be a high stigma, but now everyone wants to learn." Tracy Sides, a health department AIDS epidemiologist, said, "Unlike the rest of Minnesota ... they have not been exposed to educational and prevention messages for the past 20 years. There is a long way to go." The data also show that more than 50% of the state's new HIV cases occurred among heterosexual women.
MSM and Syphilis
"More reassuring" statistics were found among the state's white men who have sex with men, officials said, according to the Star Tribune. The number of new HIV cases among MSM fell 7% last year from 130 cases the previous year. However, officials are concerned that the fall in new HIV cases could be temporary and pointed to a recent increase in the number of syphilis cases among the state's MSM. There were 82 new cases of syphilis reported in 2002, compared with 49 cases in 2001, and 20 new cases were reported in the first three months of 2003, according to health department officials. The outbreak could be a seen as a "harbinger of an increase in HIV," as half of the people who were newly diagnosed with syphilis also had HIV, which could indicate that some people are engaging in unsafe sexual practices, the Star Tribune reports. Sides said, "We would be wise to be wary" (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 4/16).