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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 24, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 39
CDC: 12% of urban Gay & Bi men have HIV - 2/3 unaware test
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CDC: 12% of urban Gay & Bi men have HIV - 2/3 unaware

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Nearly one in eight urban Gay and Bi men have HIV, and almost half don't know it. Among HIV-positive Gay and Bi men under 30, nearly two-thirds are unaware of their HIV status.

Those were the astonishing conclusions of a new CDC study released September 23.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied 8,153 men who have sex with men in 21 U.S. cities participating in the 2008 National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System (NHBS).

NHBS monitors HIV testing, risk behaviors, and access to prevention services among at-risk populations in cities with high numbers of persons living with AIDS.

The CDC study examined HIV prevalence and awareness of HIV status, broken down by demographic categories like age and race.

While Gay and Bi men of all races and ethnicities were severely affected, African Americans were particularly impacted.

While 19% of all the men studied were HIV-positive, 28% of African Americans in the study were HIV-positive, compared to 18% of Hispanics and 16% of white men.

The study also found a strong link between socioeconomic status and HIV in the population being studied.

HIV prevalence increased as education and income decreased, and awareness of HIV status was higher among men with greater education and income. These findings echo similar disparities found in recent NHBS research among heterosexuals.

Low awareness of HIV status was cited as a major concern, particularly for younger men.

The study also provided more insight into the populations of Gay and Bi men most in need of HIV testing and prevention services.

Among all racial and ethnic groups, African American men with HIV were least likely to be aware of their infection (59% unaware, as opposed to 46% for Hispanics, and 26% for white men).

While young Gay and Bi men under age 30 had lower HIV prevalence than older men, they were far more likely to be unaware of their HIV infection. Among HIV-positive Gay and Bi men aged 18-29, nearly two-thirds (63%) were unaware of their status, as opposed to 37% for men age 30 and older.

Among young Gay and Bi men, young men of color were less likely than whites to know they were HIV-positive.

Among HIV-positive African American men under age 30, 71% were unaware of their status. Among HIV-positive Hispanic men under age 30, 63% were unaware. Among white men under age 30, only 40% were unaware of their HIV status.

These conclusions are important because the CDC estimates that the majority of new HIV infections are transmitted by individuals who are unaware of their status.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, past studies show that once people learn they are HIV-positive, most take steps to protect their partners.

CDC officials conclude that because undiagnosed HIV infection likely plays a major role in transmission, reaching younger Gay and Bi men with regular HIV testing is critical.

CDC officials added that low awareness of HIV status among young Gay and Bi men probably reflects several factors: they may have been infected more recently, may underestimate their personal risk, may have had fewer opportunities to get tested, or may believe that advances in HIV treatment minimize the threat of HIV.

For young Gay and Bi men of color, discrimination and socioeconomic factors - such as poverty, homophobia, stigma, and limited health-care access - may be especially acute and pose particular challenges.

"For young men who have sex with men - including young men of color who are least likely to know they may be infected - the future is truly on the line," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

"It is critical that we reach these young men early in their lives with HIV prevention and testing services and continue to make these vital services available as they become older," Mermin added.

CDC recommends that Gay and Bi men of all ages get tested for HIV at least annually, and more often - every three to six months - if they are at increased risk.

Among those at increased risk would be men with multiple or anonymous sex partners, or those who use drugs during sex.

The CDC also found that only 45% of HIV-positive Gay or Bi men who were unaware of their HIV status had been tested in the past year, underscoring the importance of more frequent testing among those at highest risk.

While HIV prevention for Gay and Bi men remains a top CDC priority, agency officials said that a renewed national commitment to HIV prevention is needed to reduce the toll of HIV on men who have sex with men and increase access to prevention.

Their conclusions were echoed by others involved in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

"This alarming new data provides further evidence that prevention efforts for Gay men have not been adequate to meet the growing epidemic and should be dramatically scaled up," said Carl Schmid of the nonprofit AIDS Institute.

"The severity of the impact of HIV in the Gay community is nothing new. What has been missing is an appropriate response by our government, at the federal, state, and local levels, and the Gay community itself," Schmid told Reuters reporters.

The CDC study bolsters some of the key themes in the Pres. Obama's National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States.

The recently released strategy document says that "the United States cannot reduce the number of HIV infections nationally without better addressing HIV among Gay and Bisexual men," and men who have sex with men are listed among the priority populations for HIV prevention efforts.

Obama's strategy also sets targets for reducing the number of individuals living with HIV who are unaware of their HIV status.

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