Monday, June 13, 2005

From combined dispatches

Blacks account for nearly half of the more than 1 million Americans with HIV, according to federal data released yesterday that suggests the battle lines of the nation’s AIDS epidemic are marked as much by race as by sexual preference.

?The HIV epidemic, initially most prominent among white gay men, has expanded to affect a wide range of populations, with African-Americans now most severely impacted,? Dr. Ron Valdiserri, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV, sexually transmitted disease and tuberculosis prevention programs, said yesterday.

An estimated 1,039,000 to 1,185,000 Americans were living with HIV at the end of 2003, up from between 850,000 and 950,000 in 2002, the CDC said at the 2005 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta. The jump reflects the role of medicines that have allowed people infected with the virus to live longer, officials said.

Forty-seven percent were black, a disproportionate figure considering that blacks make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population. Whites accounted for 34 percent of the HIV-positive population and Hispanics 17 percent.

Homosexual and bisexual men made up 45 percent of the total.

In a separate analysis of 1,767 men who have sex with men, researchers also discovered that 67 percent of the black men in the group did not know they were infected before participating in the study, more than three times the percentage of whites who were unaware.

Dr. Valdiserri said providing homosexual and bisexual black men and other high-risk subgroups with testing and prevention services was a key step to halting the spread of HIV.

AIDS, which destroys the immune system and leaves victims vulnerable to opportunistic infections and cancers, has killed about a half-million Americans and at least 22 million persons worldwide since 1981.

Health experts have been warning of a possible resurgence of the epidemic, which eased in the early 1990s after the development of anti-retroviral drugs targeting the disease.

Since the late 1990s, when U.S. deaths from AIDS stabilized at 16,000 per year and new HIV infections stabilized at 40,000 per year, the disease has shown signs of a comeback among homosexual and bisexual men and intravenous-drug users.

The CDC, however, said it was possible that the makeup of the HIV-positive population would shift in coming years to reflect a higher proportion of infections among blacks, women and people infected by high-risk heterosexual contact.

Estimating the number of Americans with HIV has always been a difficult task for health officials, but this year’s figures are thought to be the most accurate , thanks to wider case reporting.

Previous estimates — as high as 1.5 million people — from the 1980s were later determined to be too high. For example, the CDC estimated in 1986 that between 1 million and 1.5 million people had HIV. In 1987, that was revised to 945,000 to 1.4 million and was refined in 1990 to 800,000 to 1.2 million.

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