Hispanics, gay men see highest HIV increase

Study reinforces concern that complacency about disease is rising, CDC says

November 27, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The number of new HIV cases diagnosed in the United States is continuing to climb, and the sharpest rise has been among Hispanics and gay and bisexual men, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, which appeared in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, looked at figures from 29 states that have collected HIV reporting data that include a confidential, name-based system in place since 1999.

As a result, the picture may actually be much worse because states with the highest populations and possibly the highest infection rates, such as New York and California, were not included in this four-year study.

Between 1999 and last year, the number of new HIV cases soared by 26 percent among Hispanics and by 17 percent among men who have sex with men, while the increase in new cases overall for that time period was 5.1 percent.

"Because more effective treatments are available, there seems to be a perception, particularly in the gay community, that HIV is a manageable disease," said Dr. Robert Janssen, director of the division of HIV and AIDS prevention at the CDC. "Most of the increase in the Latino community is due to men having sex with men. I think the disease just doesn't have the fear that it once carried."

Several groups besides gay men and Hispanics also showed increases in the rate of diagnosis. African-Americans, at 55 percent, still make up the largest portion of new cases, while whites, the study found, accounted for 8 percent of the new cases. The numbers for men in general went up 7 percent.

Whether the study's findings reflect higher rates of HIV infection is difficult to say because some cases are not diagnosed immediately.

The new findings reinforce the notion that there is a growing sense of complacency among groups at the highest risk for contracting the disease. Advances in AIDS treatments in recent years, some experts say, may be undermining efforts to promote safer-sex practices. The latest figures, in that case, may reflect a more widespread willingness to engage in risky behaviors.

This week, for example, the CDC released figures showing that rates of syphilis infections had risen sharply last year for the second year in a row. Gay and bisexual men accounted for a disproportionate number of those cases, Janssen said, and in most cities more than half of the men involved in the outbreak also had HIV.

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