HIV, AIDS Cases Rise Among U.S. Gay, Bisexual Men

Paul Simao, Reuters, Dec. 1

ATLANTA (Reuters) – A rise in new cases of AIDS and HIV infection among gay and bisexual men in many U.S. states, reported in a federal study on Wednesday, has given support for concerns the disease is resurgent in the country.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in connection with World AIDS Day, said new HIV and AIDS diagnoses in 32 U.S. states rose 11 percent among gay and bisexual men between 2000 and 2003.

Rates were stable among most other population sectors, and the overall infection rate rose to 19.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2003 from 19.5 per 100,000 people in 2000.

AIDS, which destroys the immune system and leaves victims vulnerable to an array of opportunistic infections and cancers, has killed about half a million Americans and 22 million people worldwide since 1981.

Gay and bisexual men are believed to account for a majority of the estimated 850,000 to 950,000 Americans living with HIV, the virus that causes the disease.

In the United States public health experts have been warning of a possible resurgence of the epidemic, which eased in the early 1990s following the development of antiretroviral drugs targeting the disease.

Since the late 1990s, when U.S. deaths from AIDS stabilized at 16,000 per year and new HIV infections stabilized at 40,000 per year, the disease has shown signs of a comeback, particularly among gay and bisexual men.

Between 2000 and 2003, a total of 125,800 people were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in the 32 states, according to the new report.

Forty-four percent of these cases occurred among gay and bisexual men. “Men who have sex with men continue to constitute a substantial proportion of HIV/AIDS cases,” said the CDC.

It said blacks, who represent about 13 percent of the U.S. population, made up 51.3 percent of all HIV and AIDS cases diagnosed in the same period.

New York, California and other states that had not used confidential, name-based reporting of HIV and AIDS cases for at least four years were excluded from the study.

A number of health departments across the nation also have reported a worrying surge in syphilis and some other sexually transmitted diseases among gay and bisexual men. Sexually transmitted diseases are known to increase the likelihood of contracting HIV.

To combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America, the U.S. government decided last year to emphasize programs that focus on testing and counseling people who are already infected.

Some AIDS activists, however, fear the new approach will lead to reduced funding for many programs that emphasize condom use and other safe-sex practices for uninfected people.

The CDC, which hopes to cut the number of new annual HIV infections in half within five years, also has recommended routine HIV testing be expanded to include pregnant women, intravenous-drug users and anyone who engages in unsafe sex.

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