The rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections among African Americans has dropped an average of 5% a year for three years, but blacks are still 8.4 times as likely as whites to contract the lethal virus, said a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday.
The rate of new diagnoses among gay and bisexual men of all races, stable for the preceding three years, rose 8% last year, the report said.
Authorities are at a loss to explain the sudden increase, said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, acting director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.
Another CDC report issued this month, however, showed a 29% rise in syphilis infections among those men during the last four years, suggesting an increase in high-risk sexual activity.
The decline among black males was due primarily to a 9% drop in new infections among black intravenous drug users and a 4% drop among black heterosexuals, Valdiserri said. Blacks account for 69% of new diagnoses among heterosexuals.
“Overall, new HIV diagnoses continue to disproportionately and severely impact African Americans, both men and women,” he said. “This is not new, but it is critical that we not become complacent.”
The data reflect information from 33 states with name-based reporting of HIV infections and AIDS cases, in which each case is identified by the name of the patient, not by a code number. Name-based reporting is thought to be more accurate.
Among the states not covered are Illinois and California. A bill to begin such reporting in California is stalled in the state Senate Judiciary Committee but is expected to be passed next year.
The new report contains data from New York for the first time and thus is not comparable to previous reports, Valdiserri said. New York accounts for about 20% of the new HIV diagnoses in the report, said CDC epidemiologist Lisa Lee.
In the 33 states, 38,685 Americans -- 71% of them male -- were diagnosed with HIV in 2004, down from 41,207 in 2001.
Based on other data, the CDC estimates that about 40,000 Americans contract HIV each year. Valdiserri attributed the discrepancy to the often-substantial lag time between infection and diagnosis.
About 18,000 Americans die of AIDS each year. The CDC estimates that about 900,000 are infected with the virus, but that a quarter of them do not know it. The virus is believed to have killed about half a million Americans since 1981.
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New HIV diagnoses, 2001-'04 (numbers are rounded)
White -- 29%
Black -- 51%
Hispanic -- 18%
Other -- 3%