- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An estimated 50,000 HIV cases are diagnosed each year in America, indicating that the infection rate for the deadly disease is relatively stable — although at an unacceptably high level, public health officials said Wednesday.

“While we’re glad” the HIV infection rate is “not increasing, it’s not good enough,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The number of HIV infections remains far too high,” Dr. Frieden said, noting that 1.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. “HIV is preventable, and we need to do more to prevent it.”

Based on a new CDC surveillance system, researchers estimated that there were 48,600 new HIV infections among people 13 and older in 2006, 56,000 new infections in 2007, 47,800 in 2008, and 48,100 in 2009.

About 75 percent of infections were among men each year — mostly men who have sex with men (MSM).

In 2009, for instance, MSM accounted for 29,300, or 61 percent, of the new infections, of which 11,400 are white, 10,800 black and 6,000 Hispanic.

Black women are also a high-risk group for HIV, representing 5,400 new infections in 2009.

Researchers are alarmed to see that many young black MSM — those ages 13 to 29 — acquired HIV during these years. Young, black MSM “were the only group” to see steady increases in new HIV infections, with cases rising from 4,400 in 2006 to 6,500 in 2009, the CDC said.

There are “glaring health disparities” in HIV/AIDS, said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

“While we all have individual responsibility to protect ourselves from HIV infection, the research clearly shows that individual risk behavior alone doesn’t account for the significant racial disparities in HIV,” Dr. Fenton said, calling for more attention to poverty, discrimination and lack of access to health care.

Other ways to reduce HIV infection are to tackle rates of other sexually transmitted disease infections — which enable AIDS transmission — and stigma about homosexuality, said Joseph Prejean, lead author of the CDC study, published in the online scientific journal PLoS One.

The federal government is expected to spend $21 billion this year on domestic HIV/AIDS, Jeffrey Crowley, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said at a recent Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation event on the disease.

Promising developments include ways to prevent AIDS, such as vaginal microbicides and an oral pill for gay men, he said, and “we do have an Affordable Care Act that took decades to get and provides a platform for expanding access to insurance coverage.”

However, public concern about HIV/AIDS has ebbed to record-low levels, the Kaiser Family Foundation said at its “HIV/AIDS at 30” event in June.

Only 7 percent of Americans name HIV/AIDS as the nation’s “most urgent” health concern, compared with 68 percent in 1987, when the AIDS outbreak was emerging, the foundation said. Today, cancer and obesity are the top health concerns.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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