Metro Weekly

CDC: Gay/bisexual men remain most affected by HIV

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New research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that gay and bisexual men remain the group most affected by HIV, with the rate of infection in young men increasing in recent years.

The CDC presented two studies at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) specifically dealing with HIV and its impact on men who have sex with men (MSM), as well as the impact on groups within the MSM community. To what extent are gay and bisexual men contracting HIV? Each year, they account for two-thirds of newly diagnosed cases, according to the CDC.

While the overall number of HIV diagnoses decreased between 2003 and 2012, between 2008 and 2012 the rate of diagnosis increased in certain regions of the United States, particularly among MSM. The CDC analyzed data from the National HIV Surveillance System (NHSS), which collated information from what the NHSS calls Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA). These MSAs are typically large cities with populations over 500,000, such as Washington, D.C., Miami, Dallas and New York.

We’re going to get granular, so keep on top of your acronyms. Of the 105 MSAs analysed, the overall rate of HIV diagnosis decreased on average 3.7 percent — with a significant decrease observed in almost two-thirds of MSAs.

However, among gay and bisexual men in these MSAs, the rate of HIV diagnosis increased between 2003 and 2007 by over 10 percent, before levelling off and subsequently declining between 2008 and 2012 — but at a rate less than that of the national average. Over that latter four year period, rates of HIV diagnosis declined a mere 2.2 percent for MSM.

Dig deeper, however, and a startling statistic for our younger readers becomes apparent. Over that same period between 2008 and 2012, the rate of HIV diagnosis increased by 15 percent among MSM aged just 13-24. Among older generations, particularly those over 55 who lived through the HIV/AIDS crisis of the ’80s, the number of diagnoses remained unchanged over the same period.

The authors of the CDC’s study noted that “the results are consistent with other data, including past estimates on new HIV infections, finding troubling signs of recent increasing infections among young gay and bisexual men.”

So, younger gay and bisexual men are becoming infected with HIV at rates higher than both their peers and the national average, but the CDC didn’t just examine age as a factor in HIV diagnosis rates. A separate study examined the correlation between ethnicity and diagnosis rates among MSM. They discovered that African American men were being diagnosed at rates higher than other racial/ethnic groups.

Using National HIV Behavioral Surveillance (NHBS) data from 20 U.S. cities, the CDC discovered that, between 2008 and 2011, African American MSM were infected with HIV at higher rates than their peers. Overall, in that time period, thirty percent of African American MSM were HIV-infected, with twenty percent of those aged 18-24 infected. Comparatively, only fourteen percent and four percent respectively of white MSM reported being HIV-infected over that time period.

HIV awareness and infection rates shows a glaring disparity between African American and white MSM. African American MSM under 40 were “significantly more likely to be HIV-positive compared to all other racial/ethnic groups.” What’s more, African American MSM were less likely to be aware of their infection than their white counterparts. All of this, despite African American MSM not reporting higher levels of condomless sex.

For the CDC, the data is clear. HIV prevention efforts need to be focused more on young gay and bisexual men. Beyond that, efforts must be redoubled to reach young, black gay and bisexual men. At a time when access to sexual health information is more available than ever, it seems incredulous that young gay and bisexual men are seemingly becoming blind to the need to be vigilant about safe sex.

As a first barrier, condoms remain the best way to prevent transmission of HIV during sex. In addition, PrEP (also known by its brand name, Truvada) is now a viable addition to safe sex practices, and constitutes a once-daily pill to reduce the risk of HIV infection. It’s available on many healthcare plans.

Above all else, get tested regularly. Know your status. If you test positive for HIV, get onto medication as soon as possible, as that will give you the best chance of living a long and healthy life. If you have any questions, worries or concerns — about HIV or any other aspects of sexual health — talk to your doctor.

Image Credit: C. Goldsmith Content Providers: CDC/ C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E. L. Palmer, W. R. McManus

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.