AIDS in America: By the numbers

Published: August 31, 2011

Men who have sex with men still make up the largest group of people with AIDS. In 2007 alone 47% of all new AIDS cases were the result of male-to-male sexual contact ( MSM ) . Over 30 years, more than half of all reported cases of AIDS have been in men who have sex with men ( MSM ) .

In 2008, 17,940 MSM were diagnosed with AIDS, a six percent increase from 2005. CDC officials attribute the high rates among MSM to a number of social issues, including internalized to overt homophobia which contributes to low self-image issues. Low confidence and support surrounding sexual orientation are found to have profound impacts on sexual health decisions and safe sex practices.

Other reasons such as racism, poverty and homelessness can also interfere with access to healthcare. Complacency towards AIDS from the current generation and common misconceptions are also contributing factors to the rise in MSM AIDS statistics, officials said. The young MSM community is one the CDC targets annually and nationwide with awareness campaigns to promote HIV testing and access to resources.

An even more specific U.S. group seeing a large increase in AIDS cases are young Black MSM. Between 2004 and 2007 young Black MSM showed the largest increase in HIV/AIDS cases in America, accounting for 62% of all HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S.

Research shows that in communities where the gay stigmas are very strong, the rates of HIV/AIDS increase. On Aug. 15, 2011 at the CDC National AIDS Prevention conference it was noted that the young Black MSM HIV/AIDS numbers increased by 48%, the largest increase of all ethnic groups.

In September, Black gay activists along with the CDC are rolling out a new awareness campaign in five major American cities where young Black MSM HIV/AIDS are particularly high. The "Testing Makes Us Stronger" campaign will focus on positive images of Black gay men. Despite the high numbers, Dr. John Su of the CDC said, "Young Black men are doing more to prevent HIV/AIDS than any other group."

Though 75% of Americans living with AIDS are men, Black and Latino women living with AIDS are also on the rise in the U.S. There are more than three times as many Black women living with AIDS in the U.S. than white or Latino women. For women of color, AIDS diagnoses are on an increase and the primary source of transmission is unprotected heterosexual contact and needle-based drug use.

Over the past few years, more Americans between 30 and 50 have developed AIDS, showing a significant increase for the age group in both males and females. In 2009 studies showed that the highest rate of new HIV infection was among the age group between 40-44.

The rises in AIDS in older people is also very strong in the Black and Latino communities. Twenty-nine percent of all people living with AIDS are over the age of 50. Many things can account for AIDS in the older population, one is that many of the signs and symptoms of AIDS mimic natural aging and can be overlooked. The older generation is also not as informed as the younger ones and does not consider themselves to be at as great of a risk. Unprotected sex and drug use are still the two leading transmission routes.

Though the rate of increase of reported AIDS cases is declining, this does not accurately reflect HIV trends overall, since HIV itself is not reported and tracked. In fact, more people are living with HIV in the U.S. than ever before.

With better medications and more accessible healthcare, it is easier to maintain HIV, but without crucial HIV/AIDS funding and awareness the rates of infection will continue to rise. In a statement from the AIDS prevention conference in Atlanta in August, the CDC’s Dr. Jonathan Mermin said, "We cannot allow the health of a generation to be lost to a preventable disease."

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