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1 in 5 Gay/Bi Men Have HIV, Nearly Half Don't Know

CDC Study Shows Gay/Bisexual African-Americans, Young Adults Least Aware of HIV Status

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 23, 2010 - One in five gay/bisexual men in the 21 U.S. cities hardest hit by AIDS have HIV infections -- and nearly half don't know it, a CDC survey finds.

Black gay/bi men and under-30 gay/bi adults are least likely to know of their HIV infections.

The findings show that HIV infection rates remain strikingly high among gay and bisexual men, says Kevin Fenton, MD, PhD, director of the CDC's center for HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, STD, and TB prevention.

"The number of new HIV infections each year is increasing among men who have sex with men [MSM], while remaining stable or decreasing in other groups," Fenton said in a statement. "Currently, MSM account for nearly half of the more than 1 million people living with HIV in the United States."

To get these numbers, CDC teams visited bars, dance clubs, and other venues frequented by gay and bisexual men in the 21 cities with the highest number of AIDS cases. They interviewed 8,153 self-identified gay and bisexual men who agreed to undergo HIV testing.

The findings:

  • 19% of the men tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
  • 28% of black, 18% of Hispanic, and 16% of white men tested positive for HIV.
  • 44% of the men who tested positive for HIV had been unaware of their infection.
  • 59% of black, 46% of Hispanic, and 26% of white men who tested positive for HIV were unaware of their infection.
  • 63% of the HIV-positive men age 18-29 were unaware of their infection.

Research shows that HIV-positive men who know they are infected are far less likely to pass the infection on to their sexual partners. For this reason, the CDC is redoubling its efforts to promote HIV testing among gay and bisexual men.

The CDC recommends routine HIV screening tests for everyone age 13 to 64. Men who have sex with men -- whether or not they identify themselves as gay or bisexual -- should have HIV tests at least once every year. Men who have multiple or anonymous male sex partners should get HIV tests every three to six months.

"We must confront fear. Many men do not get tested and retested because they are afraid of what they might learn," Fenton says. "Finding out you have HIV is hard, but not knowing is even worse and puts your life and others' lives at risk."

But Fenton says more than HIV testing is needed. He calls on the new generation of gay community leaders to do more for HIV prevention. And he says every American can do more.

"We must confront stigma," Fenton says. "Homophobia and discrimination can also stand in the way of too many gay and bisexual men seeking and receiving appropriate HIV prevention services, testing, and care."

The CDC report appears in the Sept. 24 issue of MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report -- the same publication that in 1981 reported, in five gay men, the first cases of a disease later to be named AIDS.

SOURCES: CDC, MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Sept. 24, 2010; vol 59: pp 1201-1207.Statement by Kevin Fenton, MD, PhD, director, CDC's center for HIV/AIDS, virus hepatitis, STD, and TB prevention.

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