HIV increases in MSM Population in 2004; ?Reasons Unclear?

by David Foucher

EDGE Publisher

Friday November 18, 2005

The estimated number of HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men remained relatively stable between 2001 and 2003, reported the CDC today, but jumped eight percent between 2003 and 2004.

Racial disparities in HIV infections remain severe, according to the new data; blacks account for 51% of new HIV diagnoses between 2001 and 2004. The data is based on 33 states that conducted confidential, name-based reporting - including, for the first time, New York state.

"We found that new HIV diagnoses continue to be disproportionately high and severely impact African-Americans, both men and women," said Dr. Ronald O. Valdiserri, acting director of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention. "Because this finding is not new, it may be tempting to minimize its importance but it is critical that we not become complacent with this data, that we not accept the status quo."

But the new data suggests that the most dramatic change in the past two years may be among men who have sex with men (MSM), irrespective of race. This group accounts for the largest amount of diagnoses overall, and after three years of stable infection rates, experienced a sudden 8% jump in 2004.

According to the CDC, the jump is a bit of a mystery.
?It?s been farily well established that the recent outbreak of syphilis that crystal methamphetamine usage has played a significant role,? Valdiserri reported. ?People who take this drug are more prone to engage in high-risk sexual behavior with multiple partners? There?s a clear association there. Crystal meth has been strongly implicated in syphilis transmission, the concern in that it likewise might be implicated in HIV infection.?

This implication is part of the reason many communities across the Unites States have mobilized against the drug utilizing community-based educational programs, according to the CDC.

?Increased diagnoses among MSM could mean more incidents, more testing, or a combination of both,? explained Valdiserri. ?We don?t yet have all the answers. What we do know is that HIV continues to exact a tremendous toll on MSM of all races.?

High-risk heterosexual contact accounted for 34 percent of new cases, followed by injection drug users at 17 percent ? although both of these categories experienced annual declines in diagnoses, largely thanks to the inclusion of New York state in the reporting, where the epidemic is more ?mature.?

By race and ethnicity, 51 percent of diagnoses during the four-year period were among blacks, 29 percent among whites and 18 percent among Hispanics, said Lisa M. Lee, a co-author of the report and senior epidemiologist with the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indian/Alaska Natives each accounted for 1 percent or less of new diagnoses, and those groups continue to have the lowest HIV/AIDS rates of any racial/ethnic population in the United States.

The CDC estimates, however, that as many as 25% of all people infected with HIV are unaware of their infection.

?That?s a quarter of a million people,? Valdiserri said. ?We need to reach out to those people.

?As many as 25% of all person who are infected with HIV in the US are unaware of their infection,? Valdiserri That?s a range of a quarter million people. We want to reach out to those people. It?s very important for communities of gay and bisexual men in particular to know that there is a possibility that HIV could rebound, and communities need to get the word out and emphasize the importance of safer behaviors and early diagnosis.?

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.

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