HIV Diagnoses Among MSM Ages 13-24 Increased by 12% Annually from 2001 to 2006, CDC Report Says
The number of new HIV diagnoses recorded between 2001 and 2006 among men who have sex with men ages 13 to 24 increased by 12.4% annually, according to a study published Thursday in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the New York Times reports. Some experts said the findings are an "ominous ... indicator" that the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to flourish among MSM, the Times reports.
For the study, CDC analyzed data from 33 states but did not include statistics from states with large minority and MSM populations, including California, Illinois and Georgia (Tuller, New York Times, 6/27). The study found that of the 214,379 HIV diagnoses recorded during the study period, 46% were among MSM. Although the rate of new diagnoses increased for MSM, it declined in all other transmission categories, including injection drug use and high-risk heterosexual contact, Reuters reports. Among all MSM, the estimated annual percentage change was 1.5%, according to the study (Reuters, 6/26). Among MSM ages 25 to 44, the rate of new diagnoses declined by 1%. In addition, among MSM ages 45 and older, the rate increased by 3%, the study found. Among MSM ages 13 to 24, the annual increase was 8% among Hispanics, 9% among whites and 15% among blacks. According to the Washington Post, the increase among young MSM is about 10 times higher than the overall MSM community.
Previous studies have found that black MSM on average have fewer sexual partners, are less likely to use drugs and are no more likely to have unprotected sex than white MSM. The higher rate recorded among black MSM, therefore, does not seem to stem from riskier behavior but rather the higher prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections that can increase a person's likelihood of contracting the virus (Brown, Washington Post, 6/27).
"To reduce transmission of HIV among MSM of all races/ethnicities, prevention strategies should be strengthened, improved and implemented more broadly," the report said. The report added that HIV testing is important because "after persons become aware that they are HIV-positive, most reduce their high-risk sexual behavior" (Reuters, 6/26). According to the report, some of the increase could be because of higher rates of HIV testing among MSM. However, it added that "available data suggest that these increases cannot be explained by increases in testing alone" (New York Times, 6/27).
Richard Wolitski, acting chief of prevention research in CDC's Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said that MSM ages 13 to 24 "represent a new generation that has not been personally affected by AIDS in the same way that their older peers were." Ron Simmons, president of Us Helping Us, said the revolution in antiretroviral therapy during the last 10 years appears to have lessened the fear of HIV transmission. "I can remember going to a funeral every four or five days," Simmons said, adding, "Now, if you talk to some of these young men, they say, 'If I do get infected, I will simply take the blue pill or the pink pill, like my friend.'"
Phill Wilson, head of the Black AIDS Institute, said, "When you see a 15% yearly increase, that is an epidemic that is out of control." He added, "And yet we don't see a response that recognizes it is an epidemic out of control" (Washington Post, 6/27). "It's a grim report," Ronald Stall, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh, said, adding, "It means roughly speaking that about half of the American AIDS epidemic is occurring among a few percent of the adult population. And the terrible trends we're seeing among white gay men are even amplified further among minority men."
Jennifer Hecht, education director at the Stop AIDS Project, said that lack of access to information is a key factor in the increase of new diagnoses. "In a lot of ways, this is connected to the administration's policy of emphasizing abstinence-only education," Hecht said, adding, "And the high rates we see among black men and other minorities indicate that it's very much connected to larger issues, like poverty and racism" (New York Times, 6/27).
The study is available online.