World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 seems to mean less now than ever. We have collectively tired of mourning, and the number of people in this country who actually die from AIDS has dropped dramatically since the 1990s. Some HIV organizations have decided not to offer any special events at all this year for World AIDS Day.
Yet nearly 1 million Americans live with the HIV virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We still need World AIDS Day to educate and hopefully prevent thousands more from contracting the virus.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a report this fall showing that infection rates for people under the age of 30 in New York City have increased by 33 percent over a five-year period. Within this group, black and Hispanic men received twice as many HIV diagnoses as white men. Even more disturbing, the department reports that new diagnoses last year of black and Hispanic men accounted for more than 90 percent of infected male teenagers who had sex with men.
Update: From the Washington Post:
New government estimates of the number of Americans who become infected with the AIDS virus each year are 50 percent higher than previous calculations suggested, sources said yesterday.
For more than a decade, epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pegged the number of new HIV infections each year at 40,000. They now believe it is between 55,000 and 60,000.
The higher estimate is the product of a new method of testing blood samples that can identify those who were infected within the previous five months. With a way to distinguish recent infections from long-standing ones, epidemiologists can then estimate how many new infections are appearing nationwide each month or year.
The higher estimate is based on data from 19 states and large cities that have been extrapolated to the nation as a whole.
The CDC has not announced the new estimate, but two people in direct contact with the scientists preparing it confirmed it yesterday.
What is uncertain is whether the American HIV epidemic is growing or is simply larger than anyone thought. It will take two more years of using the more accurate method of estimation to spot a trend and answer that question.