Metro Weekly

Emory University study estimates 15 percent of gay and bi men have HIV

Study shows rates of HIV diagnoses are significantly higher in the South, including D.C. and Maryland

An HIV-infected T-cell (Photo: NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), via Wikimedia Commons).

An HIV-infected T-cell (Photo: NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), via Wikimedia Commons).

A new study by researchers at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health estimates that 15 percent of all men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States are infected with HIV.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, uses data from 2012, showing that 11.1 percent of MSM were living with an HIV diagnosis, to conclude that an estimated 15 percent of MSM were living with HIV infection that same year. Rates of HIV diagnosis were particularly high in the South, with diagnosis rates in some states almost or more than twice the rate of the nation overall.

“We know from surveillance data that MSM represent a high percentage of people living with HIV and annual HIV diagnoses, and prior studies have shown that rates of HIV among MSM are dramatically higher than among other populations,” said Eli Rosenberg, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health. “However, our analyses are the first to present HIV rates among MSM broken down by states, counties, and metropolitan statistical areas. These refined results are an additional tool for regional and local public health action and provide further evidence for the need to prioritize HIV prevention efforts for MSM and particularly for MSM living in the South.”

In six Southern states and the District of Columbia, more than 15 percent of MSM had been diagnosed with HIV in 2012, with Mississippi atop the list with 23.34 percent, followed by Louisiana (21.72 percent), South Carolina (21.63 percent), the District of Columbia (20.96 percent), Georgia (18.51 percent), Alabama (15.78 percent) and Arkansas (15.04 percent). But more than 11 percent of MSM had been diagnosed with HIV infection in eight more states: New York, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Maryland.

Of the 25 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with the highest levels of MSM living with an HIV diagnosis, 21 were located in the South, in addition to the MSAs of New York City, Los Angeles, Fresno, Calif., and Dayton, Ohio. Diagnosis rates were particularly high in five MSAs — Jackson, Miss., Columbia, S.C., El Paso, Texas, Augusta, Ga., and Baton Rouge, La. — where more than a quarter of all MSM had been diagnosed with HIV.

Experts on HIV infection say knowing where the disease’s impact is most strongly felt could help highlight the importance of increased resources to help test people for the virus, lead prevention efforts, and get those infected into treatment to reduce the spread of HIV. Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said during a panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon that the analyses can help with targeting at-risk populations, adding that data suggest that prevention efforts targeted at gay and bisexual men have had some degree of success in reducing HIV infection rates.

“By pinpointing where HIV strikes the hardest, we have a key piece of the puzzle highlighting the largest disparities within states and the South,” Mermin said in a statement. “We hope these data empower local public health officials, community-based organizations and everyone fighting HIV to bring resources to the gay and bisexual men who need them the most.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com