The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the new data Monday at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta. The number of gay and bisexual men testing positive for HIV has increased 17.7 percent since 1999.
The CDC cautioned that the data was based on voluntary testing, so the rise in HIV diagnosis for gay and bisexual men could have been caused by an increase in the number of people in that group who were tested for the virus. The CDC also said that their analysis involved data from 25 states and leaves some racial and ethnic groups underrepresented. It does not include numbers for New York and California, two states that have been hard-hit by the virus.
AIDS researchers also noted the importance of increasing testing and awareness of the disease among pregnant women, to reduce the number of infants born with HIV.
At least one-fifth of pregnant women in some parts of the nation are not tested for HIV despite CDC recommendations that prenatal care include such tests. An estimated 300 U.S. babies contract the virus from their mothers each year.
The CDC also found that an estimated one-quarter of the 850,000 to 950,000 Americans infected with HIV do not know they carry the virus, according to the CDC.
“Efforts to increase the number of HIV-infected people who are aware of their HIV status and to link these infected individuals to testing, treatment and prevention services are critical to reducing new infections,” Dr. Ron Valdiserri, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, said at a press conference.
CDC officials also said use of OraSure Technologies Inc.’s OraQuick rapid HIV test appeared an ideal way to reach people at the highest risk of infection.
The test, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002, yields preliminary results in as little as 20 minutes and is as accurate as standard HIV tests.
“Rapid HIV testing is an enormously important tool to reach people that traditional methods are not reaching,” Dr. Bernard Branson, the CDC’s lead investigator on rapid HIV testing, told reporters.
Meanwhile, the CDC is hoping to improve its ability to follow HIV’s spread within communities through its implementation of a new HIV tracking system. That system is based on a blood test that can determine whether a person has been infected within the six months prior to getting tested.
The CDC plans to have the system in place in 35 areas that account for 93 percent of annual HIV infections by 2004. The agency has allocated $13 million in supplemental funding to state health departments for the program in fiscal 2004.
“It will provide us timely information on HIV transmission that is occurring now,” said Dr. Robert Janssen, who directs HIV prevention programs at the Atlanta-based agency.