In the United States, African American men and women continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases noted in a statement issued to coincide with the 9th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for nearly half of all new HIV infections and almost half of all Americans living with HIV.

According to federal health officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2006, more new HIV infections occurred among young black men who have sex with men than in any other segment of the U.S. population. That same year, black women acquired new HIV infections at 15 times the rate of white women.

In Washington, DC, alone, 1 in 20 residents is living with HIV - roughly the same proportion of people as in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, according to Fauci, and 1 in 50 DC residents has AIDS. "These shocking statistics would be tragic anywhere but are particularly inexcusable in a wealthy country such as the United States," he said.

"To win the battle against HIV, it is crucial that African Americans — and indeed, all Americans — get tested for the virus during routine medical care, as the CDC and the American College of Physicians recommend," Fauci added.

Statistics show that of the 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, 20 percent do not know they are infected, raising the odds that they will infect others and the likelihood of becoming very ill without treatment.

"Increasingly," Fauci noted, "scientific evidence indicates that beginning treatment for HIV as early as possible in the course of infection has advantages for infected individuals, their partners and their communities. Early treatment appears to improve the odds of staying healthier longer."

"Treatment is no substitute for prevention, however," Fauci added. "NIAID-funded investigators are working to develop and validate new methods to protect against HIV infection."

NIAID also is conducting HIV/AIDS research specifically designed to benefit African Americans.

To locate NIAID-sponsored HIV/AIDS clinical trials that are seeking volunteers, go to ClinicalTrials.gov.