A Persistent Scourge

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Monday, June 30, 2008

ASURVEY conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of HIV-AIDS data from 33 states between 2001 and 2006 revealed a distressing trend: HIV infection in young gay men rose 12 percent a year. For African Americans in that group of 13- to 24-year-olds, the annual increase was 15 percent. The safe-sex lessons that took hold after the loss of a generation of gay men during this epidemic's two-decade advance appear to be lost on the young. The stunning success of retroviral drugs for those with AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes the disease, has diminished people's fear of the disease, though it still has no cure.

HIV-AIDS is a global epidemic that has cut a path of heartbreak through the United States without regard to gender, race, income, age or sexual orientation. But the CDC report shows that while the overall number of new HIV infections went down in other risk categories, it increased among gay men. There was a spike among the very young and a slight rise (3 percent) among those ages 45 years and older. There was a 1 percent decline in the number of new infections among gay men 25 to 44, a silver lining in a cloud of troubling news.

Data from the District were not included in the CDC report, but the city's health department told us that it has comparable statistics. Among 13- to 24-year-olds, the new infection rate tripled between 2000 and 2005. Between 2001 and 2006 there was a 22 percent increase in infections among black men who have sex with men.

The CDC report is a reminder that the work of keeping people HIV-negative and getting those who are HIV-positive into treatment is never done. A variety of efforts are underway across the country. They range from the commonplace, such as condom giveaways, in-clinic counseling and needle exchange programs here in the District, to more ambitious programs, such as the drive to make voluntary HIV testing routine in emergency rooms and storefront clinics in the Bronx. The goal is to test all adults ages 18 to 64 in the borough, which has the highest AIDS death rate in New York City, in the next three years. The District, too, is pushing to make HIV testing a routine part of care.

We applaud these efforts. The fight against AIDS demands not only vigilance but also continuous education. An informed populace is the best defense against this ferocious epidemic.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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