March 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
New study finds high HIV, syphilis rates in gay, bi men

A new analysis released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention shows that the rate of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men, also referred to as MSM, is more than 44 times greater than that of other men and 40 times greater than that of women.

The study also shows that the rate of primary and secondary syphilis among MSM is more than 46 times that of other men and more than 71 times that of women.

“While the heavy toll of HIV and syphilis among gay and bisexual men has been long recognized, this analysis shows just how stark the health disparities are between this and other populations,” said Kevin Fenton, a physician and director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Diseases & Tuberculosis Prevention.

“It is clear that we will not be able to stop the U.S. HIV epidemic until every affected community, along with health officials nationwide, prioritize the needs of gay and bisexual men with HIV prevention efforts.”

The CDC released the new data analysis at the 2010 National Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention Conference, which occurred this week in Atlanta.

In a statement summarizing the findings of the analysis, the CDC said its researchers developed an estimate of the size of the U.S. gay and bisexual male population for the purpose of determining the rates of disease for men who have sex with men.

The analysis defines the estimated MSM population as the proportion of men who reported engaging in same-sex behavior within the past five years.

“Based on an analysis of nationally representative surveys, CDC estimated that MSM comprise 2.0 percent (range: 1.4-2.7 percent) of the overall U.S. population aged 13 and older, or 4 percent of the U.S. male population (range 2.8-5.3 percent),” says the summary statement.

It says the analysis found that the range of new HIV diagnoses per 100,000 MSM was 522 to 989. By comparison, newly diagnosed HIV cases came to just 12 per 100,000 for other men and 13 per 100,000 for women.

For syphilis, the range of newly diagnosed cases for MSM was 91 to 173 cases per 100,000 compared to 2 per 100,000 for other men and 1 per 100,000 for women.

“This analysis gives us a clearer picture of the continued alarming disparities in HIV and syphilis rates that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men experience compared to other men and women,” said Rich Wolitski, deputy director for behavioral and social sciences at the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

“These data tell us that health departments and community-based organizations, that leaders in the gay community and that leaders in African American and Latino communities, as well, all need to recognize the severe impact that the epidemic is continuing to have on the lives of gay and bisexual men in the United States,” Wolitski told DC Agenda.

He said the CDC continues to fund local and state HIV prevention programs and is developing new strategies for prevention efforts targeting gay and bi men.

Rebecca Haag, executive director of AIDS Action, a national advocacy group, said she views the new analysis as an example of a more aggressive approach by the Obama administration in focusing on the AIDS epidemic’s impact on gay and bi men.

“For nearly eight years before this, we did not see an aggressive approach in this area under the previous administration,” Haag said. “So I see this as very good news.”

Haag said AIDS Action and other AIDS advocacy organizations are looking forward to the Obama administration’s release this spring of a detailed national HIV strategic plan, which, among other things, is expected to highlight improved prevention programs targeting MSM.

Gary Gates, a nationally recognized expert in LGBT population trends with the Williams Institute, an arm of the UCLA School of Law, said the CDC’s 4 percent estimate of the number of MSM within the U.S. male population is consistent with other national population surveys.

He said the CDC’s 2 percent estimate of MSM within the overall U.S. population appears slightly lower than the findings in other studies.

Gates noted, however, that other studies have also shown that the percentage of MSM in major U.S. urban centers is far higher than the national figure.

Michael Kharfen, spokesperson for the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration, said a CDC study of U.S. cities published in a medical journal last year showed that MSM comprised 17 percent of D.C.’s male population.

He said a D.C. Department of Health study of HIV trends among MSM in D.C. is expected to be released within the next week or two.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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