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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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New Yorker's Rapid HIV Seen as Danger Sign

Fast-Moving, Drug-Resistant AIDS Virus Points to Prevention Failure

continued...

"This person is one of the unfortunate few who did acquire this type of virus," Daar tells WebMD. "For reasons not well understood, infection by these X4 viruses doesn't seem to occur efficiently. In all likelihood, that will be the case here as well. So this case is alarming but not novel. The history is reassuring that we are not going to see an epidemic of this so-called superbug."

Del Rio says there is one thing about the case that is absolutely clear.

"This is telling us that AIDS prevention programs have been a failure," del Rio says. "U.S. AIDS prevention is nowhere near where it needs to be. In this country we have an unacceptably high number of people who get HIV every day. We have grown accustomed to this. But it is something we need to be much more aware of. This case should tell us something."

Del Rio notes that the New York patient, a gay man, frequently used methamphetamine, a drug known to lower sexual inhibitions and increase the likelihood a person will have sex without a condom.

"The intersection of the methamphetamine epidemic and the HIV epidemic is deadly," he says. "We need to not forget that. This is something being fueled by methamphetamine abuse."

Daar says it's not just a New York phenomenon. Methamphetamine abuse -- "crystal meth" in drug parlance -- is a coast-to-coast problem.

"Ninety percent of our newly infected people report crystal meth use," he says. "There is a huge epidemic of crystal meth use. And probably more so in the gay white male community than others. It is highly addictive and prevents people from using good judgment. It is a major driving force behind the epidemic. Unfortunately, we [in AIDS prevention] are not very good at dealing with substance abuse in the communities we serve."

A coalition of 41 AIDS organizations -- including the National Association of People with AIDS, Gay Men's Health Crisis, and the Treatment Action Group -- warns against stigmatizing gay men as "crazed drug addicts carelessly or wantonly spreading a killer bug."

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