From a computer in the Metro Public Health Department headquarters, Brad Beasley surfs adult hookup sites.
He’s not looking for sex. He’s trying to save someone’s life.
The public health official searches for a screen name because that’s the only way many HIV-infected people can identify sex partners. Very often, the postings seek partners who agree not to use condoms.
“Behavior is back to where it was in 1980,” Beasley said.
Thirty years after the nation’s first reported cases of AIDS, Tennessee is seeing a surge of infections among its young people. Medical successes mean the fear factor isn’t what it used to be. But people having unprotected sex are spreading mutations of the HIV virus that resist life-prolonging drugs.
Men who have sex with men still make up the majority of new infections nationwide, 53 percent. Among them, black men between 13 and 29 had more new infections than any other group. With Hispanics, the most infections also occurred in this youngest age group. But among white men, the most new infections were found in those between 30 and 39.
The CDC has designated HIV a crisis in African-American communities. While blacks account for 14 percent of the population in the United States, they make up almost half of Americans living with the virus. In Tennessee, 645 black people were diagnosed with HIV in 2009, more than double the 300 white people newly diagnosed.
Black men on the “down low,” who keep secret about having sex with other men, and the higher incarceration rate for black men are factors for the spread of the disease among African-American women, said Alcendor and Sanders.
“There are certain things that happen in prison that men won’t talk about,” Alcendor said.
The HIV incidence rate for black women was nearly 15 times as high as that for white women and nearly four times as high as Hispanic women’s, according to a CDC report.