- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Teens and young adults now account for more than a quarter of the new cases of HIV identified in the United States annually, and a clear majority of those cases involve young gay or bisexual men, the federal government said in a major new survey Tuesday.

Of the nearly 48,000 new HIV cases identified in the United States in 2010, the latest year for which complete data are available, more than 12,000 involved teens and young adults, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found in its latest report.

About 72 percent of these new HIV cases in younger adults occurred in young men who are gay or bisexual, according to the CDC report.

The report comes as officials, researchers and activists gear up for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, with U.S. and global organizations releasing a stream of reports about the state of the pandemic, while anti-AIDS activists staged an attention-grabbing protest on Capitol Hill.

A group of seven activists — four men and three women — appeared in House Speaker John A. Boehner’s office and stripped naked to protest potential funding cuts to AIDS programs. U.S. Capitol Hill police arrested some of the protesters, who had painted words on their bodies like “AIDS cuts kill.” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, was not in the office at the time.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to present her own “blueprint” to end AIDS on Thursday, and other global agencies are releasing major reports on the pandemic.

According to the CDC figures, black youths accounted for the largest share of new HIV cases, with Hispanic youths and white youths accounting for about 20 percent each.

About 60 percent of these young people do not know they are infected, which means they don’t get treatment for themselves, nor are they aware of their risks for transmitting the disease to others, said CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden.

“That so many young people become infected with HIV each year is a preventable tragedy,” said Dr. Frieden. “All young people can protect their health, avoid contracting and transmitting the virus, and learn their HIV status.”

Public health officials are calling for more “routine” — but not mandatory — HIV testing for youths in medical settings, as well as in schools and community centers.

There is also a call for more HIV/AIDS education in general, and prevention and testing programs targeting certain populations of at-risk youths.

“It will take a concerted effort at all levels across our nation to empower all young people, especially young gay and bisexual youth, with the tools and resources they need to protect themselves from HIV infection,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC’s national center on HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted disease and tuberculosis prevention.

About 1.1 million people are estimated to be living with HIV in the United States. Some 47,129 new HIV cases were identified in 2010.

The CDC’s new report, “Vital Signs: HIV Infection, Testing, Risk Behaviors Among Youths, United States,” estimated that youths aged 13 to 24 accounted for 12,200, or 26 percent, of new HIV infections in 2010.

Of these new cases, 7,000 were among black youths, 2,390 were among Hispanics, and 2,380 were among whites.

About 8,800 cases were attributed to male-to-male sexual contact.

HIV/AIDS is incurable, and an estimated 17,774 people with AIDS died in 2009. Some 619,000 persons have died of AIDS in the United States since the epidemic began in the early 1980s, according to the CDC.

The group AVAC Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention issued its own report Tuesday, urging renewed investment in anti-AIDS strategies to ensure that the number of persons being treated for HIV finally surpasses the number of persons becoming newly infected.

“The world could soon reach a tipping point in the AIDS epidemic,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC. But “the next 12 to 24 months are critical,” he said, calling for leadership and investments in high-impact strategies, such as the voluntary medical male-circumcision campaigns and greater access to anti-retroviral medicines that arrest the growth of the HIV virus and make it less likely to be transmitted.

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

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