On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new statistics on HIV infections from 2006 to 2009, and while the rate remained relatively stable, alarming trends emerged among men who have sex with men, especially African-American MSM.
For that time period, new infections remained at approximately 50,000 per year. Men who have sex with men still constitute the greatest number of new infections — the CDC estimates that MSM represent 2% of the U.S. population, yet they accounted for 61% of new infections in 2009, or 29,300 infections. Young MSM, those aged 13-29, are getting HIV at very high rates — they represent more than one quarter of all new HIV infections, specifically 27% of all new infections, or 12,900 people in 2009.
Breaking down MSM by race shows that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV. While the general rate of infection among all Americans has stabilized, infections among young black MSM increased 48% from 2006 to 2009, from 4,400 to 6,500.
Hispanics are also getting HIV at high rates. The CDC estimates Hispanics represent 16% of the American population but accounted for 20% of new HIV infections in 2009. That rate is three times as high as that of whites, while the rate of infection among African-Americans is almost eight times that of whites. Black women are contracting HIV at rates 15 times that of white women.
On a conference call Monday, CDC officials expressed some confusion over the high rates among young black MSM. That population generally does not exhibit especially high-risk behavior (e.g. numerous sex partners, drug use, unprotected sex) compared to young white MSM. The difference may be that there is significant stigma among many African-Americans concerning HIV and homosexuality, and young black MSM report higher rates of other STDs, which facilitate transmission of HIV.
The CDC hopes to take this new data and use it to bring infections down, especially among the hardest-hit populations.
“With better ways to measure the epidemic, more data about affected populations, and a growing number of prevention tools, CDC has been working to target the best mix of interventions to the hardest hit areas and populations,” the CDC reported in a press release. “New biomedical tools such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for MSM and heterosexual men and women, along with expanded testing, treatment, and linkage to care, could have an important impact on infection rates, if used strategically and in combination with other proven prevention strategies.”