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Massachusetts: HIV Rates Stagnant in Some Age Groups

June 25, 2003

Despite an overall decrease in HIV infections in Massachusetts, the virus' spread among adolescent and middle-aged populations remains largely unchecked, state figures released Tuesday show. That announcement prompted calls for prevention campaigns that more precisely target the youngest and oldest populations affected by HIV, which now infects between 19,000 and 21,000 people in the Commonwealth.

In a happier milestone, not a single baby born in the state in 2001 was infected with the virus -- a tribute to aggressive efforts to make sure pregnant women are tested for HIV and, if positive, take powerful drugs to prevent transmitting it to their babies.

New HIV infections reported to the Department of Public Health have decreased from 1,288 cases in 1999 to 894 last year, according to preliminary figures. But the number of infections among 13- to 24-year-olds, as well as people older than 50, did not decline significantly. In 1999, 79 adolescents and young adults tested HIV-positive. In 2002, 78 tested positive, accounting for 8.7 percent of all new infections. Similarly, 119 people older than 50 were diagnosed with HIV in 1999, compared with 107 cases diagnosed last year, which accounted for 12 percent of new cases.

"We are very aware that our prevention messages do not target people who are eligible for AARP membership," said Jean Flatley McGuire, director of the state's HIV/AIDS Bureau. "They still have sex and do drugs."

About 18 months ago, Massachusetts eliminated the Protect Teen Health initiative. The decision to ax the $1 million program, McGuire said, was driven in part by the need to reduce expenses as the state began cutting the budget for the HIV/AIDS Bureau. Public health authorities believe that increased sexual experimentation as well as intravenous drug use at a younger age may be fueling the continued spread of HIV among youths. In the past year and a half, funds for state AIDS services shrank by 38 percent.

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Excerpted from:
Boston Globe
06.25.03; Stephen Smith

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