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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 12, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 32
HIV infections remain steady, increase among young and black MSM
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HIV infections remain steady, increase among young and black MSM

Courtesy of Healthy Living News

A new study has revealed that new HIV infections in the U.S. are averaging about 50,000 per year. However, the data also revealed an alarming increase in new HIV infections among young men and young black men who have sex with other men (MSM).

The study was done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the journal PLoS One. It used a testing method called STARHS that can determine whether an HIV infection is recent. STARHS stands for serological testing algorithm for recent HIV seroconversion.

The study, on new infections from 2006 to 2009, revealed no significant change in HIV incidence overall. The infections averaged about 50,000 each year. However, 61% were MSM-related infections with most being among those between the ages 13-29.

Alarmingly, the CDC estimates also showed that from 2006 to 2009, new HIV infections among young black MSM increased 48%. Among females, blacks also had the highest rates of new infections annually, although that increase was about half as much as seen in black men.

CDC officials expressed concern over the level of new infections.

'Not only do men who have sex with men continue to account for most new infections, young gay and bisexual men are the only group in which infections are increasing, and this increase is particularly concerning among young African American MSM,' said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D.

'We are deeply concerned by the alarming rise in new HIV infections in young, black Gay and Bisexual men,' added Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. 'We cannot allow the health of a new generation of Gay men to be lost to a preventable disease.'

Some longtime activists were less than forgiving over the government's faltering efforts to slow down the rate of new HIV infections, especially with prevention data showing that testing and then treating people early on can reduce new infections.

'Test-and-treat studies and the recent Partners 052 study have shown that treating those with HIV can prevent new infections. It's time for the U.S. to fund and implement these strategies more widely, not to cut back on them,' said longtime HIV activist Vic Hernandez, Dr.P.H. 'Doing so will save both lives and money over the long term.'

Both sides seem to agree over what works. But there are other challenges in reducing HIV transmission.

For example, according to the CDC, many young MSM are unaware they are at risk or that they are infected and so need to be screened for HIV. However, stigmas associated with HIV or homosexuality can be obstacles in seeking out testing or treatment.

Studies also show that black males in particular are less likely to disclose their sexual orientation to care providers, especially in health care systems perceived as being racist and homophobic. Other studies have shown that black MSM mistakenly feel less at risk being with other black men even though that partners them within a high-risk group.

Additionally, there are sexually transmitted diseases that increase the risk of HIV transmission. A CDC study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine just days before the STARHS study showed high rates of syphilis among younger MSM. Among black and Hispanic MSM the rates were, respectively, eight and 2.4 times above the already increased rates of white MSM.

That data was collected from 2005 to 2008, around the same time as the STARHS study. The higher levels of syphilis, followed by higher rates of new HIV infections, is no coincidence according to infectious disease experts.

According to Dr. Kenneth H. Mayer of the Fenway Institute, studies have consistently shown that when syphilis rates increase, new HIV infections soon follow.

'Incident syphilis in young MSM is a highly accurate predictor of subsequent HIV infection,' Dr. Mayer noted.

And the syphilis study found high rates in young black MSM aged 15 to 19 years, the same population where the STARHS study shows new HIV infection rates are exploding.

Hence the urgent need to respond to the problem, according to Dr. Mayer.

Of course there are tried and true ways to minimize the risks of getting either syphilis or HIV, the CDC's Dr. Frieden advised. 'By getting tested, reducing risky behaviors, and getting treatment, people can protect themselves and their loved ones.'

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