New HIV infections among gay and bisexual men in the Seattle area are rising by alarming percentages, leading to new warnings from health officials to take more precautions against the spread of the virus. HIV diagnoses among gay men tested at Seattle-King County public health clinics rose 40% last year, and health officials expect 2003's figure to be 60% higher than 2002's level. Robert Wood, director of AIDS control for the Seattle-King County Health Department, calls the numbers "the most dramatic increase since the beginning of the epidemic."
A total of 94 new infections were reported at public health clinics in 2002 among men who have sex with men, and officials expect more than 150 new cases to be diagnosed this year. While infections also are expected to be up at private health centers, the increases there likely will be smaller, Wood said. Officials estimate that the overall number of new infections diagnosed in the county at both public and private clinics in 2003 will be between 400 and 500 cases. About 8,400 people in the Seattle area are HIV-positive, up from about 7,500 two years ago. Wood said about 3,000 of those HIV-positive people have progressed to an AIDS diagnosis. Gay and bisexual men account for about 85% of all HIV infections in Seattle-King County.
Seattle health officials say the rising infection rates are a sign that traditional HIV prevention messages are failing and that gay and bisexual men are more commonly engaging in unprotected sex. AIDS organizations and health officials are urging all gay men in the Seattle area to be tested for HIV antibodies, to disclose their status to sex partners, and to practice safer sex. "It's the responsibility of all guys who are sexually active to be talking about it--and don't be afraid to talk about it if you have it," said Jack Johnston, program coordinator for Positive Power, a group that serves HIV-positive men.
Seattle's Lifelong AIDS Alliance plans to begin a public education campaign in July with bus placards and outreach through the Internet to alert local gay and bisexual men of the surging numbers of new infections in the region.