Gay, Bisexual Black Men Now Face Greatest AIDS Risk
May 31, 2001 (Washington) -- Twenty years after AIDS was first reported by U.S. public health officials, it's still a killer. However, new research indicates the epidemic is having a particularly devastating impact on gay, black Americans, and it appears the threat to this group is on the rise.
"Gay men of color have now emerged as the population hardest hit in the United States," says John Ward, MD, editor of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
AIDS was first recognized as a condition afflicting white, gay men and intravenous drug users when it was described in the June 5, 1981 issue of the MMWR. Twenty years later, the situation has changed. Now the AIDS quilt, which memorializes those who died from the disease, has become part of the very fabric of American life.
Statistics are showing that 42% of new infections of the AIDS virus, HIV, are still in gay men. A CDC study released Thursday that looked at about 3,000 gay and bisexual men in six cities from coast to coast found that the infection rates among the black men was almost 15%. Put another way, the new infection rate for blacks in the study is about seven times that seen in the whites. The study also found that infection among Latino populations slightly edged out the rate among whites as well.
Earlier studies show that nearly one-third of all black gay and bisexual men are HIV positive. One reason could be that behaviors leading to the disease are still considered taboo by many in the black community and are seldom discussed.
Leo Jenkins, however, is a black man who is a native of Gary, Ind., and talks with other blacks about issues like safe sex. He found out he was HIV positive in 1995. "I don't deserve to die," he says, but adds that the lifestyle choices people make can put them at greater risk of the disease.
The new data on minority HIV-cases will be published in Friday's MMWR, along with other reports about the epidemic's domestic and international impact, marking what U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher calls a "solemn milestone."
"When the CDC investigated the first cases of AIDS in 1981, no one could have foreseen the enormous toll that AIDS would have within 20 years, both in the United States and throughout the world," said Satcher at a news conference marking the occasion.
The initial MMWR report of five rare pneumonias in previously healthy gay men suggested to the disease detectives at the CDC that the problem could be a "cellular-immune dysfunction ... acquired through sexual contact." Within 18 months, CDC scientists had discovered that HIV was transmitted through blood, sexual activity, or intravenous drug use.