- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Like the rumblings of a long-dormant volcano, the first indications of a resurgence in the AIDS epidemic in America were sounded this week. According to preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AIDS cases increased by 2.2 percent last year, the first such increase in almost a decade. Many of those new cases apparently are being initiated by the conscious choice of one individual to put another at risk, since gay and bisexual men have been so terribly afflicted. Diagnoses of AIDS in that group increased by more than 7 percent between 2001 and 2002. They have increased by nearly 20 percent since 1999. No other demographic group has seen such a deadly upturn.

According to Harold Jaffe, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, there are many reasons for this increase, ranging from the belief that anti-AIDS drugs will cure everything to what he termed “epidemic fatigue — being tired of hearing about it.” However, he suggested that the most compelling reason was complacency — “people aren’t scared any more.”

They should be. Despite all the advances that have been made in anti-AIDS medications, a true cure may still be years away, since HIV’s exceptionally high mutation rate gives it the ability to develop resistance to many drugs. Although the number of deaths due to AIDS continues to decline, a diagnosis of AIDS is still a death sentence. It has killed about 450,000 Americans since the outbreak began.

It is difficult to see how more education would help the matter, since the basic precautions are so well-known. The CDC’s fact sheet on HIV prevention could not be more clear: “The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.”

That life-saving advice is being ignored. According to two studies presented at the National HIV Prevention Conference this week, Internet chat rooms and Web sites have become popular meeting places for subsequent unprotected promiscuity. D.C. residents are some of the worst actors in this regard — 119 of every 100,000 area residents now have AIDS, the highest rate of any major U.S. city.

One need not agree with the lifestyle to be appalled at this unnecessary waste of life. Gay and bisexual men owe to themselves, not to mention their families and their friends, to follow basic, life-saving precautions. Capping the potential volcano of an AIDS explosion will take the conscious choices of those at highest risk.

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