AIDS cases more than thought

Infection estimates in U.S. reported low

December 02, 2007|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- More people in the United States are infected each year with the AIDS virus than previously thought, according to federal health officials, in a finding that could roil the debate over how much money should be spent on prevention efforts.

While the new numbers are sobering, no one is yet sure whether more people have actually been infected in recent years or the figures are simply a better estimate than the old ones. Two more years of data are needed to answer that question.

For 14 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used informal methods to estimate that about 40,000 people in the United States are newly infected with HIV each year. In recent years, federal officials have worked diligently to set up a more accurate assessment technique.

The numbers from the new system are now in, although the agency has not released them publicly.

The Washington Blade, a gay newspaper, reported Nov. 14 that the new estimates showed infection rates were 50 percent higher than previously believed, with between 58,000 and 63,000 infected in the most recent 12-month period. The Washington Post had a similar report yesterday.

Federal health officials refused to release the new numbers. "We currently have a paper going through a scientific review process," Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman, said yesterday, "and until that process is complete, we're not in a position to say one way or another whether the numbers will actually be up from current estimates."

A federal official who would not speak for attribution about the new numbers because of the review said they were indeed higher than the old estimate, but not by as much as The Blade and The Post reported.

It has been clear for at least a year that the old estimate would have to be revised up, said David R. Holtgrave of the Johns Hopkins University, a former director of one of the CDC's principal AIDS prevention programs.

From 2001 to 2005, more than 186,000 people in 33 states received diagnoses of HIV or AIDS, according to figures. That amounts to more than 37,000 new cases each year from just two-thirds of the country.

President Bush has increased financing for AIDS treatment and prevention programs abroad, but spending for domestic prevention efforts dropped 19 percent in inflation-adjusted terms between 2002 and 2007.

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