July 25, 2003 -- Nearly 1 million people are living with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. today. In fact, the number of newly diagnosed cases has increased -- and many infected people don't know they have HIV.
Those most at risk for infection: People of color, young teens, drug users, and gay men who meet sex partners online.
This new snapshot of the HIV and AIDS epidemic is being presented at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference, which opened Sunday in Atlanta.
The biannual conference, first held in 1999, is the largest single gathering of HIV/AIDS experts in the U.S. The conference provides a critical opportunity for these experts, researchers, and AIDS community representatives to discuss recent advances and new challenges in efforts to reduce the burden of HIV in this country.
"Although we've made great progress in preventing HIV since the early days of the epidemic, new and significant challenges remain," Ronald O. Valdisseri, deputy director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, told a press audience on Friday.
Valdisseri announced the CDC's new HIV tracking system, which should provide public health officials with more accurate numbers of HIV infections across the country. The system distinguishes "new" HIV infections -- those that have occurred within the past six months -- from infections that may have occurred years earlier.
He also mentioned success stories: "Thanks to the availability of treatment regimens to prevent transmission, the number of infants born with HIV has fallen dramatically," he says. "However, newborns still contract HIV from their mothers each year; each of these is preventable tragedy."
Other new data:
- 42,136 new cases of AIDS were diagnosed in 2002 -- a 2% increase; there were 16,371 deaths, a 6% decline since 2001.
- New HIV diagnoses for gay and bisexual men increased by 18% since the lowest point in 1999. Diagnoses among other vulnerable groups -- people of color and drug users -- remained stable.
- Between 850,000-900,000 persons are living with HIV in America, one-quarter of whom are unaware of their infection.
- Twenty percent of African-American and Latinos are not aware that effective HIV treatments are available -- suggesting more needs be done to raise awareness, since the promise of effective treatment could encourage people to get tested.
- HIV from injection drug use has increased by 15% in youth and young adults, with the greatest increase in the 13-15-year-olds. This increase follows years of steady declines, and points to the need for preventive education efforts aimed at young injection drug users.
Women continue to be a high-risk group:
- Seventy-three percent of African-American women do not believe they are at risk for HIV, although more than half had a history of other STDs.
- One-fifth or more pregnant women are still not being tested for HIV, despite the recommendation that testing be part of prenatal care.
- Forty percent of American women of childbearing age are not aware of methods to protect newborns from HIV.
- Foreign-born women are more than twice as likely to refuse HIV testing as women born in the U.S.
However, there are promising trends:
- The number of women tested in New York state rose dramatically in 2002 from 64% to 94%.
- Rapid testing can provide accurate results in less than an hour for women whose HIV status is unknown when they enter labor. This allows the doctor to introduce treatment to the newborn before transmission.
New research indicates the Internet is a new environment for unsafe sex.
- Among gay men, the numbers who met partners online are increasing.
- More than three-quarters of gay men who meet partners online are likely to report high-risk sex with those partners. Thirty-nine percent reported having unprotected anal sex with those partners.
Partners of HIV-infected persons need better counseling, says Valdisseri.
- HIV-positive patients are often not counseled on ways to prevent transmission to their partners. Among those surveyed following a clinic visit, one-quarter said they had received general prevention information during the visit, and only 6% said specific sex activities had been discussed with them.
- Even a one-day training session could help HIV treatment providers talk with their patients about reducing risk behavior. Those who took part in the session said they felt more comfortable discussing high-risk behavior, including needle sharing and sexual behavior, with their patients.
The new statistics will be used to better target HIV/AIDS education efforts, says Valdiserri.
SOURCE: CDC telebriefing, July 25, 2003. News release, CDC.