Number of New HIV Cases Increasing Among North Carolina College Students
The number of new HIV cases has "risen sharply" among North Carolina college students, especially among African-American males, according to a study by the state Department of Health and Human Services and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that was presented on Wednesday at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, the Charlotte Observer reports (Stobbe/Suchetka, Charlotte Observer, 7/31). The study found that in the past 18 months, at least 53 male students at North Carolina colleges have contracted HIV, and almost all of the students are African-American, according to the Greensboro News & Record. While examining the results of a new test that county health departments and private clinics began administering in November 2002 that can detect new infections within two weeks of exposure, researchers found that two of the five people who tested HIV-positive over a three-month period in the Triangle area were black male college students. The researchers did not disclose what school the students attend. The researchers then looked at new HIV infections in Durham, Orange and Wake counties confirmed between January 2001 and February 2003. Of the 146 men who tested HIV-positive during that period, 25 were students at public, private or community colleges, and 88% were African-American men who had sex with men, according to the News & Record. Researchers then examined HIV cases in Guilford, Forsyth, Mecklenburg and Pitt counties and discovered that 28 HIV cases identified over a two-year period were among college students (Newsom, Greensboro News & Record, 7/31).
State Data Reflects National Trend
According to the Observer, the number of new HIV cases identified in North Carolina has been rising for three years, and African Americans are 14 times more likely than whites to be HIV-positive (Charlotte Observer, 7/31). Nationwide, the number of newly diagnosed men who have sex with men rose in 2002 for the third consecutive year, rising 7.1% from 2001 to 2002, the CDC announced last week at the conference. The new findings are fueling fears that HIV might be making a comeback among MSM (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/28). Many of the college students who tested HIV-positive said that they had met sex partners at gay bars, over the Internet or through phone dating services, according to the Observer. The researchers did not compare the HIV incidence among college students to people of the same age in the general population (Charlotte Observer, 7/31).
The researchers said they were "alarmed" by the recent findings, which represent the first time in 20 years of HIV/AIDS research in which college campuses have been identified as "high-transmission areas," according to the News & Record (Greensboro News & Record, 7/31). Christopher Pilcher, a study co-author and assistant professor at the UNC-CH School of Medicine, said, "This is a first indication that there may be a resurgence of HIV happening in a vulnerable population, in this case young black men in the South" (Associated Press, 7/31). Peter Leone, medical director of the HIV prevention branch of NCDHHS, said that the recent increase in cases among college students could be "just the tip of the iceberg." Pilcher said that the findings present a "clear indication that more attention should be focused on HIV prevention and education" (Greensboro News & Record, 7/31). In response to the study, colleges are planning new HIV prevention efforts, according to the Observer. North Carolina State University in the fall plans to run advertisements in school newspapers reminding students that HIV/AIDS still poses a threat. N.C. State and several other colleges will also hand out cards informing students where they can obtain free condoms or free HIV tests. The state last week held a training session for health care workers at North Carolina's historically black colleges to try to increase HIV testing on campuses in the fall, according to the Observer. "We're really just stepping up or enhancing what we're already doing," Jerry Barker, director of student health services at N.C. State, said (Charlotte Observer, 7/31).