CDC Reports ‘Alarming’ Rate of HIV Among Gay Men
Researchers from the CDC yesterday at the 8th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections announced the results of a six U.S. city study that found "alarming levels" of HIV infection among young gay and bisexual men, particularly African Americans, the Los Angeles Times reports. One in every 10 gay or bisexual men is HIV-positive, and that figure "climbs" to nearly one in every three gay or bisexual African-American men, epidemiologist Linda Valleroy reported. The results of the "first-time" study "surprised" researchers, particularly the high rate among blacks, but researchers point out that the new statistics reflect the "changing nature" of the epidemic, in that more than half of all new infections in the United States now occur in African Americans. Dr. Helen Gayle, chief of the AIDS program at the CDC, called the 30% infection rate among blacks an "amazing statistic," especially because people associate being gay with being white, she said. The study shows that "the people at greatest risk [for HIV infection] are sexually active gay men, and that cuts across all races and ethnicities," Gayle added. Although researchers are "not completely sure" why blacks are hardest hit, they speculated that one reason may be the higher rate of incarceration among blacks. Many men may be exposed to HIV in prison, where the virus is prevalent. Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University School of Medicine also noted that there is a "much greater stigma" associated with being homosexual in the African-American community than among whites (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 2/6). Young black gays "fear that if they 'come out,' they will lose their place in the black community, their safe harbor in a white-dominated society," Dr. Phil Wilson, director of the African-American AIDS Policy and Training Institute at the University of Southern California, said. He added that some gay blacks would equate acknowledging their sexual preferences with "bringing shame on [their] race." Cornelius Baker, director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., said that such attitudes and stigmas result in people "subverting their identity, living double lives and putting themselves -- and their partners -- at risk" (Sternberg, USA Today, 2/6). Jesus Geliga of Dallas' AIDS Resource Center said that young gay minorities may be "hit harder" by HIV because prevention efforts are "historically focused mostly on middle-class whites." He said there is a need for "more than AIDS prevention counseling," adding that many men "don't see themselves at risk" or "believe that they are doomed to infection no matter what they do" (Beil, Dallas Morning News, 2/6).