Editorial: AIDS epidemic continues

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The announcement over the weekend about AIDS contains some good news in that the rate of HIV/AIDS infection has remained relatively stable for about a decade and bad news in that 40 percent more than previously estimated are infected with the AIDS virus.

But the stark wake-up call that there is no getting around is there are still far too many people – about 15,000 – dying from the disease every year and those parts of the population at the highest rate of incidence are continuing to engage in high-risk behaviors that indicate not enough is being done to help those groups. And the new study suggests that one in four Americans who have the disease do not know it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report over the weekend to coincide with the opening of the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City that shows the number of those in the United States infected with HIV in 2006 is actually higher than the previous estimate.

The numbers come not because of a spike in infections but rather because of advanced testing that can more accurately determine the approximate time of infection – separating infections less than five months old from older infections – meaning there are an estimated 56,300 people who were infected in 2006 rather than the estimated 40,000.

The new test has prompted health officials to revise other data about the annual rate of infection but they insist the numbers show the spread of the disease has been relatively stable since the late 1990’s. The rate of infections among heterosexuals and drug users has also dropped, according to the report.

With advancements in diagnoses and treatments, as well as the extended incubation period of HIV, more than 1.2 million live with the virus in this country, although the total figure is likely to be revised in the wake of the new information.

What is most troubling about the report, however, is the accompanying data which shows that gay men still account for the majority of the infections, roughly 53 percent. And all minorities showed a higher rate of infection than whites, especially black men, who accounted for 45 percent of the infections, seven times higher than whites and three times the rate of Hispanics who were infected.

The CDC studies also show that key groups are being missed in prevention and intervention efforts. More than one-third of new infections occurred in people under the age of 30 and the CDC determined in one study that 80 percent of gay and bisexual men were not being reached with the most effective programs available.

The current administration and its supporters have broomed the incidence of HIV and AIDS in this country under the table, insisting a change of habits and abstinence are the best solution.

Abstinence from all high-risk behaviors is, indeed, a method to reduce HIV infections But with 15,000 people still dying from AIDS every year, that message is not resonating with everyone.

Whether it’s the expansion of needle exchange programs, condom distribution, expansion of defining prevention, ensuring research and treatment funds don’t stagnate and reducing the stigma attached to contracting a deadly disease that keeps people from seeking treatment, we need to do more.

The Patriot Ledger