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National News
New York: HIV Names Reporting Falls Short

October 8, 2002

One of the arguments for the 1998 New York state law requiring health care providers and labs to report the names of people who test HIV-positive was that the data would give a more accurate picture of the AIDS epidemic. But the names reporting effort is not gathering information on whether new infections are occurring among gay and bisexual men, drug users, or other at-risk groups, so city health officials cannot yet say where the epidemic is heading.

"With the change in the law, about 77 percent of our cases come to us via labs and... many of those reports do not include some of the information like risk [category]," said Dr. Judith Sackoff, deputy director of HIV surveillance and epidemiology at the city's Department of Health.

The department's HIV/AIDS Surveillance Program Semi-Annual Report has no data about whether the 6,084 new HIV infections reported in New York City from June 2000 through December 2001 occurred among gay and bisexual men or injection drug users. "We do have risk information, but because such a large proportion is incomplete, we are not sure what it means," said Dr. Denis Nash, the department's director of surveillance. Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn, a champion of names reporting, said that gathering risk data was not part of the original legislation.

Part of the problem stems from the volume of information the department now receives. Labs and health providers must report people who are HIV-positive, viral load test results, and CD4 cell counts when the level falls below a certain number. In 2000, when names reporting was implemented, the department received just under 60,000 reports on such tests. It got over 300,000 reports in 2001. Many reports lack complete information, however.

"We are able to describe the demographics and geography [of the epidemic]," said Nash. "The straggling piece on the characterization of the epidemic is the transmission risk." The department will use statistical sampling to "infer the risk distribution," according to the report. It will investigate 5,700 HIV/AIDS cases between June 2000 and December 2001 to determine how those people were infected. A similar investigation from January 2002 will sample 200 to 300 newly reported HIV/AIDS cases each month.

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Excerpted from:
Gay City News (New York City)
09.27.02; Duncan Osborne

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