Only 266 new HIV infections were reported in Minnesota last year, the lowest number of new cases in 20 years, the state health department reported Wednesday. The 2003 numbers represent a 13% decline in new HIV cases from 2002, when 305 cases were reported. Health officials say there are too many factors involved to call the one-year drop a trend and offer no explanation for the decrease. State epidemiologist Harry Hull notes that Minnesota reported a similar dip between 1999 and 2000, followed by a 5% increase the next year. One third of the newly diagnosed patients in 2003 already had AIDS by the time they were diagnosed with HIV infection, Hull says, indicating they probably had HIV for years without knowing it. Hull also says the growing number of syphilis cases among gay and bisexual men could indicate HIV infections will increase in the future. "If you've got syphilis, you aren't practicing safe sex," he said.
The highest number of HIV infections in Minnesota was recorded 1986, when 588 new cases were reported. But for the past decade the number of reported cases has ranged between about 275 and 350 new cases a year.