Jacksonville Also in Top Five
According to data released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Miami metropolitan area ranks No. 1 in the nation in AIDS case rates. The report, based on 2008 statistics, ranks Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and New Orleans second and third respectively.
Rounding out the top 10, in ascending order, are Baltimore; Jacksonville; Washington D.C.; Columbia, South Carolina; Atlanta; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and New York City.
Gay and bisexual men are among the largest group of individuals affected by AIDS. The two groups are referred to in CDC surveillance systems as men who have sex with men, or MSM.
The report states: “This is the only risk group in the U.S. in which the annual number of new HIV infections is increasing. There is an urgent need to expand access to proven HIV prevention interventions for gay and bisexual men, as well as to develop new approaches to fight HIV in this population.”
While new infections have declined among both heterosexuals and injection drug users, the annual number of new HIV infections among MSM has been steadily increasing since the early 1990s.
MSM accounts for nearly half of the more than one million people living with HIV in the United States. While the CDC estimates that MSM account for just 4 percent of the U.S. male population aged 13 and older, the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM in the U.S. is more than 44 times that of other men.
According to Spencer Lieb, senior epidemiologist in the Bureau of HIV/AIDS for the Florida Department of Health, the Miami area has ranked in the top five for a long time. “The tri-county area has had one of the highest morbidity rates since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic,” he says. “So it’s not surprising to find them ranking high.” Lieb tells SFGN that the increasingly high number of persons living with HIV will result in a greater chance of onward transmission.
Furthermore, Florida has tested more individuals for HIV than any other state in the country. “If we test more people, then we are most likely to discover more cases,” Lieb says. Recently, the Florida Department of Health implemented viral load and CD4 testing methods, which have been proven to be more successful methods of testing and may also be a contributor to the higher results the state has witnessed.
Jacksonville ranked fifth in the report, adding further to worries that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Florida may be spiraling out of control.
Lieb continues, “If a person’s sexual network includes a high density of people who are infected by the virus, the chances are greater that the person may contract the disease.”
Florida has implemented many programs in the last decade to help those affected by the virus. The Miami area alone has over a dozen programs or organizations including Care Resource, Empower-U, Union Positiva, Village South and ALERT Health. The University of Miami has also created a program to help those worried about contracting the virus. “In total, Miami has more interventions than any other city in the state,” Lieb says.
Among all of those who were infected, about half were unaware of their HIV status. Results were particularly alarming for black MSM and young MSM. More than two-thirds of infected black MSM and nearly 80 percent of infected MSM aged 18–24 were unaware that they were infected.