By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010; A3
One in five gay men in the United States has HIV, and almost half of those who carry the virus are unaware that they are infected, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
The study tested more than 8,000 men in 21 cities in 2008, making it the most comprehensive such research by the CDC. It found that young, sexually active gay men and those in minority groups are least likely to know their health status, even as infection rates are climbing among men who have sex with men, while the rates of other at-risk groups - heterosexuals and intravenous drug users - are falling.
The findings were released Thursday, ahead of National Gay Men's HIV Awareness Day on Monday.
A CDC official called for a sharper focus on testing. "This study's message is clear: HIV exacts a devastating toll on men who have sex with men in America's major cities, and yet far too many of those who are infected don't know it," said Kevin Fenton, director of the agency's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
Cities in the study include Baltimore, where the prevalence rate among men who have sex with men was highest at 38 percent, and Atlanta, where it was lowest at 6 percent.
In the District, where the general HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is about 4 percent, more than 16,000 adults, one of the highest numbers in the nation, has the virus, according to the city Department of Health. According to the CDC study, the District had a 14 percent prevalence rate among men who have sex with men.
A CDC spokeswoman said the recent study's findings were similar to those of a National Health Behavioral Study conducted between June 2004 and April 2005, when one in four gay men tested positive for the virus. But the percentage of minorities who tested positive changed dramatically in the three years since the previous study.
Back then, 46 percent of gay black men tested positive in the smaller study, compared with 40 percent in the larger 2008 study. Black gay men outpaced white and Hispanic men in both studies.
In the earlier study, Hispanics represented 18 percent of the infected compared with 23 percent in the most recent study. White men comprised 21 percent of the infected in 2004-05 and 20 percent in the more recent study.