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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 25 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 30
New HIV diagnoses down for all groups except Gay and Bi men, AMA study says
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New HIV diagnoses down for all groups except Gay and Bi men, AMA study says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A new American Medical Association (AMA) study shows that new HIV diagnoses have dropped by one-third in the last 10 years.

The exception: Gay and Bisexual men. In that key demographic, the rate of new HIV diagnoses doubled in the same period.

The survey was published July 19 in the Journal of the AMA as part of the publication's coverage of the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

The study is based on HIV diagnoses compiled by health departments in all 50 states, based on test results from doctors' offices, clinics, hospitals, and laboratories. The data span a decade, making this a more comprehensive look at these trends than any previous study, said study co-author Amy Lansky of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the data, 16 out of every 100,000 people ages 13 and older were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2011, a steady decline from 24 out of 100,000 people in 2002.

Declines were seen in the rates for men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, heterosexuals, injection drug users, and most age groups. The only group in which diagnoses increased was Gay and Bisexual men, the study found.

The diagnosis rate is a direct measure of when people actually tested positive for the virus, not necessarily when they became infected. Diagnoses may be identifying infections that happened very recently or years before.

The study found diagnosis rates dropped even as the amount of testing rose. In 2006, the CDC recommended routine HIV testing for all Americans ages 13 to 64, saying an HIV test should be as common as a cholesterol check.

The percentage of adults tested for HIV at least once increased from 37% in 2000 to 45% in 2010, according to CDC data.

Lansky said that given the testing increases, the new findings may seem counterintuitive. People might assume that 'if more people get tested, you're more likely to find more people who are infected,' she said.

But several factors could explain the decline. One is a statistical 'ceiling effect' that occurs as HIV testing and reporting become more widespread, and the number of reported cases approaches the total number of actual cases.

Another, more interesting possibility is that there actually is a decrease in new HIV infections.

The CDC has been estimating about 50,000 new infections occur each year and that number has been holding steady in the past decade. That estimate is based on actual data from 25 city and state health departments, plus statistical modeling.

How could the new infection rate be holding steady when the rate of new diagnoses is falling?

Perhaps the infection count might be buoyed by the expanding epidemic in young Gay and Bisexual men, said Patrick Sullivan, an HIV researcher at Emory University. In that case, increasing numbers in one demographic would balance out declining numbers in other sections of people.

The World Health Organization estimates 35 million people globally have the virus. In the United States, 1.1 million people are thought to be infected, though many don't know it.

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