Young Gay Men Have More Than 25% of New HIV Cases in U.S., Researchers Say

(Corrects phrasing on new infections in second paragraph of story published Aug. 3.)

The number of new HIV infections has surged among young, black homosexual males even as the overall spread of the virus that causes AIDS stabilized, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The number of U.S. residents who became infected with HIV each year was on average 50,000 from 2006 to 2009, the agency said in a report published today on the website of the journal PLoS One. New infections among black men ages 13 to 29 who have sex with men jumped to 6,500 in 2009, a 48 percent increase from 2006 and the only statistically significant change in any segment of the population, according to the CDC.

The findings suggest young people view the threat of HIV and AIDS as less serious since of the advent of multidrug cocktails in 1996 that have doubled life expectancy for patients, public health officials said.

“We obviously have to re-educate the community,” said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association in Washington. “ Thirteen-, 14-year-old people today weren’t around 30 years ago. They were certainly not around when the height of our advocacy efforts and prevention messages were commonplace.”

More than one-quarter of new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2009 struck gay and bisexual males from ages 13 to 29, the Atlanta-based CDC said.

First Since 2008

The report by the agency is the first of its kind since 2008. About 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HIV, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in a conference call with reporters.

Though the rate of new HIV infections was stable in the four years studied, the new cases justify heightened efforts to halt the spread of the virus, Frieden said.

“While we’re glad it’s not increasing, it’s not good enough,” he said. “The number of HIV infections remains far too high. HIV is preventable and we need to do more to prevent it.”

Men who have sex with men are most at risk of HIV infection, according to the report. Sixty-one percent of new cases in 2009, or 29,300, affected these men, who are 2 percent of the U.S. population, the agency said. Gay and bisexual males ages 13 to 29 represented 27 percent of new HIV infections.

The fact that 50,000 new HIV infections occur every year is “unacceptable” and the CDC’s findings indicate the spread of the disease will worsen if young, black homosexual males aren’t given access to comprehensive health-care services, said Chris Collins, vice president of public policy for New York-based amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.

Prevention Programs

“Prevention programs have worked to bring incidence far down from their peak earlier on in the epidemic but they have not succeeded in getting us below this plateau of infections,” he said by telephone.

Expanding access to HIV screenings, health care services and antiviral drug are more important to curtailing the spread of HIV than prevention efforts, said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, in a telephone interview.

Antiviral drugs made by the world’s biggest seller of AIDS treatments, Foster City, California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD), and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) of Brentford, England, helped reduce the transmission rate by 96 percent when patients began taking them as soon as they were diagnosed, according to a U.S.-funded study published in May. Millions of new infections could be prevented through this approach, the study said.

Racial Disparity

The infection rate among blacks was almost eight times that of whites in 2009. Forty-four percent of new HIV cases affected blacks, who comprise 14 percent of the U.S. population, the report said.

In 2009, 48,100 people contracted HIV, the agency said, based on the results of laboratory tests that can differentiate between new infections and older cases that hadn’t been detected. The CDC revised its estimates for new infections in 2006 to 48,600 from the 56,300 it estimated in a 2008 report.

OraSure Technologies Inc. (OSUR) of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Alere Inc. (ALR) of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Bray, Ireland-based Trinity Biotech Plc (TRIB) sell rapid HIV test kits.

In 1996, researchers combined use of the three existing families of drugs as a way to limit the virus’s ability to overcome any one roadblock. As a result, the life expectancy of diagnosed patients has increased to about 24 years from less than 10 years, according to studies.

President Barack Obama launched the first U.S. domestic strategy to combat HIV and AIDS last year with a stated goal of reducing new infections by 25 percent and expanding access to medicines. The campaign emphasizes HIV prevention among gay men and blacks.

The U.S. spent $26 billion to fight HIV during fiscal 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, California.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeffrey Young in Washington at jyoung89@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adriel Bettelheim at abettelheim@bloomberg.net.

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