Marking World AIDS Day, the NYC Health Department Reports That HIV Infections Continue to Rise Among Young Men Who Have Sex With Men; New Studies Confirm Risky Behaviors
Brooklyn Bridge Lights Will Be Turned Off Tonight in Commemoration of World AIDS Day
December 1, 2009
As New York City commemorated World AIDS Day this morning, the Health Department released new data to highlight continuing challenges in the struggle to contain HIV in New York City. The number of new HIV diagnoses has not changed significantly in recent years; the total for 2008 is not yet final but appears very close to the 2007 total of 3,965. Yet the number and proportion of new diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) continues its alarming trend upwards. Preliminary numbers suggest that MSM accounted for 42% of the city's new HIV diagnoses last year, up from 37% just four years earlier. And for men between 13 and 29 years old, that rising proportion reflects a rapid increase in actual infections -- from 551 in 2004 to 706 in the partial count for 2008. To commemorate this continuing tragedy, the City's Department of Transportation will turn off the 174 necklace bulbs that light up the Brooklyn Bridge at 6 p.m. tonight.
The reasons for HIV's persistence among MSM are no mystery. Recent studies by the Health Department confirm that risky sexual behavior continues among MSM under 30, and is a major contributor to the rise in HIV diagnoses. As part of a national study coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 25 cities last summer, Health Department researchers invited MSM who were at least 18 years old, and attending gay-oriented venues such as bars, clubs and popular outdoor locations, to get tested for HIV and talk about their sexual behaviors. Of the 550 participants, 457 were tested for HIV and 29% tested positive (the proportion was 43% among blacks). Of the 479 who believed they were HIV-negative at the time of their interview, nearly one in five (19%) had engaged in unprotected anal intercourse with two or more male partners during the past year, and 10% had done so with a male partner who was HIV-positive or didn't know his status. For more information on the study, visit www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/dires/nhbsmsm_nov_2009.pdf.
Another study -- funded by the Health Department and conducted by researchers at New York University -- yielded similar findings. A total of 540 MSM between the ages of 18 and 29 were interviewed at gay-oriented social venues such as bars, community events and well-known meeting places. Black men (12%) and Hispanic men (9%) were more likely than white men (2%) to say they were HIV-positive. Those who reported being HIV-positive also reported having more sex partners within the last three months than men who reported being HIV-negative. The study also found that of the 339 men who reported a casual sex partner within the past three months, 19% said their last casual encounter included unprotected anal intercourse.
This year's international theme for World AIDS Day is "Universal Access and Human Rights." In keeping with the U.S. theme -- "Facing AIDS" -- the Health Department is encouraging New Yorkers to learn their HIV status and act on it. "Despite the small possible decrease in total HIV diagnoses last year, nearly a quarter of new HIV diagnoses involved people who were already sick with AIDS," said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. "That means that roughly 1,000 New Yorkers went for years without the care and treatment they needed, and may have been unwittingly infecting others the whole time. I urge all New Yorkers to take responsibility for their own health -- and their community's wellbeing -- by getting tested for HIV."
"Every day should be World AIDS Day, as this epidemic is far from over," said Dr. Monica Sweeney, the Health Department's assistant commissioner for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control. "Unsafe behaviors continue in New York City, despite the life-altering consequences. New Yorkers need to face AIDS by using the tools readily available to prevent the spread of this infection. MSM and others at risk need to use condoms consistently and choose fewer partners when they're not in monogamous relationships." The Health Department will provide free HIV testing at various sites today. In addition, Dr. Farley participated in a morning commemoration at Gracie Mansion. Dr. Sweeney will speak at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, Touro College in Manhattan, the Coney Island Cathedral in Brooklyn, York College in Queens, and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Staten Island.
How the Health Department Is Working to Slow the Epidemic
Raising Awareness of Safer Sexual Behavior
The Health Department has developed the first phase of a media campaign promoting HIV prevention for men who have sex with men. The internet campaign, released in late October 2009, includes testimonials by African-American and Latino men describing mistakes they regret and explaining, in their own words, why condom use is so important. The Health Department also funds efforts by 19 local health clinics and community-based organizations to reduce risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, having multiple sex partners or having sex while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
The Health Department gave out more than 40 million NYC Condoms during the most recent fiscal year, blanketing bars, clubs, stores, gyms and community centers.
The agency's nine STD Clinics offer free and confidential or anonymous rapid HIV testing to anyone 12 or older in every borough. No proof of citizenship or health insurance is required. For more information, New Yorkers can call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/std/std2.shtml.
Diagnosing Acute Infection
Every year, an estimated 4,800 people get newly infected with HIV in New York City (not all are diagnosed). The majority of new infections occur in men, and approximately half of new infections are among MSM. Right after a person becomes infected with HIV is when levels of the virus are highest in the body. This phase of the disease is referred to as acute HIV infection (AHI), and is extremely infectious. To better understand the acute phase, and its role in spreading HIV, the Health Department conducted a pilot AHI screening program in four of its STD clinics. AHI can be difficult for clinicians to diagnose because its influenza-like symptoms are similar to many other infections, and AHI is not detected by routine HIV screening tests. Last year, the Health Department's four clinics detected 17 of the 70 AHI cases diagnosed citywide. All of the Health Departments nine STD clinics now routinely test for the acute infection. For more information, click here.
Helping HIV-Infected People Get Quality Medical Care
Continuous medical care is a necessity for people living with HIV/AIDS. The Health Department coordinates health services for thousands of HIV-positive inmates, and works with nine local hospitals to link newly diagnosed patients to care. Besides helping them find social and medical services, Health Department counselors talk with these patients about notifying their partners. Starting today, the city's Ryan White Care Coordination Programs will adopt a similar model of coordinated care, drawing more than 4,000 clients into much-needed networks of medical and social support. By helping patients adequately manage their own conditions, the new program should also help reduce HIV transmission throughout the city.
How to Protect Yourself and Others From HIV
World AIDS Day Events
December 1, 10 am - 6 pm
December 1, 1 pm - 3 pm
December 1, 12 pm - 1 pm
December 1, 12 pm - 4 pm
December 1, 9 am - 1pm
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December 1, 10 am - 12 pm
December 1, 10 am - 6 pm
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December 1, 10:30 am - 11:30 am
December 1, 11 am - 4 pm
December 1, 11 am - 5 pm
December 1, 12 pm - 6 pm
December 1, 2 pm - 6 pm
December 1, 9:30 am - 5 pm
December 1, 6 am - 6 pm
This article was provided by New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
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