Huge Racial Differences Remain in HIV, AIDS

Minorities remain vastly more vulnerable than whites to HIV and AIDS, according to a new CDC report released Wednesday.

Blacks accounted for more than half of all new HIV and AIDS cases diagnosed in the U.S. between 2000 and 2003.

The figures, taken from surveys in 32 states, estimate that 103 out of every 100,000 black men were either newly infected with HIV or had an existing infection diagnosed during those years. The rate is the highest of any demographic group and puts black males at a seven times greater risk of the disease than whites.

Black women’s overall rate of 53 cases per 100,000 was lower, but they were still 18 times more likely to have HIV than white women. Meanwhile, Hispanic men and women had rates three to five times as high as whites, the report concludes.

About 126,000 persons were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in the 32 states included in the survey between 2000 and 2003. Overall diagnosis rates ticked up only slightly, going from 19.5 to 19.7 per 100,000 since 2000.

But vast racial differences in HIV risk have shown little change from previous years, officials say. Blacks represented 51 percent of new diagnoses in the survey but still account for only 13 percent of the population.

“This is telling all of us involved in HIV and AIDS prevention efforts that we need to focus our attention,” say Ronald O. Valdiserri, MD, deputy director for HIV, STD, and tuberculosis prevention at the CDC.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson released a statement calling the continuing racial disparities “sobering.”

Two other surveys released by the CDC Wednesday estimate that 10 percent to 12 percent of American adults were tested for HIV in 2002. About half of pregnant women were tested, though the agency recommends testing for all such women.

The agency estimates that about one-quarter of the 900,000 Americans now living with HIV do not know they are infected. Such persons are considered a major risk since they delay treatment for their infections and can unknowingly spread HIV to others.

Government agencies have pegged more widespread HIV testing as a priority to lower overall U.S. infection rates. But Wednesday’s surveys show that testing rates have improved little from previous years, Valdiserri says.

In 2001, the CDC launched an initiative to cut HIV infection rate in half by 2005. Approximately 40,000 people contracted HIV last year, a figure that has barely changed since the late 1990s.

“We have a ways to go before we reach the mark of reducing the new infection rate by half in the United States,” Valdiserri says.

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Dec 3, 2004. Ronald O. Valdiserri, MD, deputy director for HIV, STD, and tuberculosis prevention, CDC. Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services.