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At Least 3 Percent of D.C. Residents Have HIV or AIDS, City Study Finds; Rate Up 22% From 2006

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Reporter Darryl Fears speaks with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty about the HIV/AIDS statistics in the 2008 Epidemiology Annual Report scheduled to be released Monday. Video by Hamil Harris/washingtonpost.com

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By Jose Antonio Vargas and Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 15, 2009

At least 3 percent of District residents have HIV or AIDS, a total that far surpasses the 1 percent threshold that constitutes a "generalized and severe" epidemic, according to a report scheduled to be released by health officials tomorrow.

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That translates into 2,984 residents per every 100,000 over the age of 12 -- or 15,120 -- according to the 2008 epidemiology report by the District's HIV/AIDS office.

"Our rates are higher than West Africa," said Shannon L. Hader, director of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, who once led the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's work in Zimbabwe. "They're on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."

"We have every mode of transmission" -- men having sex with men, heterosexual and injected drug use -- "going up, all on the rise, and we have to deal with them," Hader said.

In addition to the epidemiology report, the city is also releasing a study on heterosexual behavior tomorrow. That report, funded by the CDC, was conducted by the George Washington University School of Health and Health Services.

Among its findings: Almost half of those who had connections to the parts of the city with the highest AIDS prevalence and poverty rates said they had overlapping sexual partners within the past 12 months, three in five said they were aware of their own HIV status, and three in 10 said they had used a condom the last time they had sex.

Together, the reports offer a sobering assessment in a city that for years has stumbled in combating HIV and AIDS and is just beginning to regain its footing. A more accurate accounting of the crisis offers a chance to contain what is largely a preventable disease.

So urgent is the concern that the HIV/AIDS Administration took the relatively rare step of couching the city's infections in a percentage, harkening to 1992, when San Francisco, around the height of its epidemic, announced that 4 percent of its population was HIV positive. But the report also cautions that "we know that the true number of residents currently infected and living with HIV is certainly higher."

The District's report found a 22 percent increase in HIV and AIDS cases from the 12,428 reported at the end of 2006, touching every race and sex across population and neighborhoods, with an epidemic level in all but one of the eight wards. Black men, with an infection rate of nearly 7 percent, carry the weight of the disease, according to the report, which also underscores that the District's HIV and AIDS population is aging. Almost 1 in 10 residents between the ages of 40 and 49 has the virus.

The report notes that "this growing population will have significant implications on the District's health care system" as residents face chronic medical problems associated with aging and fighting a disease that compromises the immune system.

Men having sex with men has remained the disease's leading mode of transmission. Heterosexual transmission and injection drug use closely follow, the report says. Three percent of black women carry the virus, partly a result of the increase in heterosexual transmissions.

"This is very, very depressing news, especially considering HIV's profound impact on minority communities," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health's program on infectious diseases. "And remember: The city's numbers are just based on people who've gotten tested."


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