CDC Underestimated New HIV Cases by 40 Percent

Mike Stobbe, AP, August 3, 2008

The number of Americans infected by the AIDS virus each year is much higher than the government has been estimating, U.S. health officials reported, acknowledging that their numbers have understated the level of the epidemic.

The country had roughly 56,300 new HIV infections in 2006—about a 40 percent increase from the 40,000 annual estimate used for the past dozen years. The new figure is due to a better blood test and new statistical methods, and not a worsening of the epidemic, officials said.

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Some said more attention needs to focus on prevention among blacks, who account for nearly half of annual HIV infections, according to the new CDC report.

A recent report by the Black AIDS Institute concluded that if black Americans were their own nation, they would rank 16th in the world in the number of people living with HIV.

“We have been inadequately funding this epidemic all along. We need to step it up,” said former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, who is now an administrator at Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine.

The new estimate has been anticipated for a long time. The CDC began working on the new methods nearly seven years ago.

Late last year, advocates said they had heard the figure was about 55,000 and pressed the CDC to release it. Agency officials declined, saying they were submitting their research for medical journal review.

“These are extremely complicated statistical methods,” and CDC officials wanted the work to be thoroughly reviewed by outside experts, Gerberding said. The CDC’s findings are being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Until 1992, the number of diagnosed AIDS cases was used to predict how many people were newly infected each year. That method produced an estimate of 40,000 to 80,000. More recently, the CDC focused on infections among men who have sex with men, who account for about half of new HIV diagnoses.

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