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Black MSM More Than Twice as Likely as Other MSM to Be HIV-Positive; Social Networks Effective for Testing, Studies Show

June 24, 2005

Black men who have sex with men in the United States are more than twice as likely to be HIV-positive as white and Latino MSM, according to a study published in the June 24 issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Reuters Health reports. Dr. Frangiscos Sifakis of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and colleagues from CDC's National HIV Behavioral Surveillance system tested 1,767 MSM at bars, clubs, organizations and other venues in five cites and found that overall, 25% tested HIV-positive. However, the percentage differed among racial groups, with 46% of black MSM testing HIV-positive, compared with 21% of white men and 17% of Latino men. About 48% of all the men who tested positive were unaware of their status. Of this group, 64% were black, 18% were Latino and 11% were white. Although most men in the study group had been tested for HIV in the past, 58% of the men who were unaware of their HIV-positive status had not undergone testing during the previous year. These men said they avoided HIV testing because they feared learning that they had the virus and were afraid that others would discover their test results. "We know that persons who are aware of their HIV status take measures to seek treatment and reduce risk behaviors, which underscores the importance of annual testing, particularly among African-American MSM," Stephanie Behel of CDC said, adding that informing individuals in advance that they can learn their test results in 20 minutes will encourage testing. "We have to increase our prevention messages to help people understand about the benefits of treatment and that people are living longer and healthier lives even with HIV infection," she said.

Second Study
In a second MMWR study, Cicely Emerson of the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center and associates examined the use of social networks to identify those at risk of HIV infection and direct them to counseling and testing services. The researchers used data from nine community-based organizations involved in a two-year project conducted in seven cities. During one year of the study -- from October 2003 to September 2004 -- 133 HIV-positive recruiters contacted 814 individuals at risk of infection through their social, sexual or drug-use networks. They then accompanied or referred the contacts to testing, counseling or referral sites. The researchers found that 46 of the 814 contacts were diagnosed as HIV-positive during the study period and 699 were HIV-negative but at a high risk of infection. "This strategy appears to make efficient use of community-based organization staff members, enabling them to focus on in-depth network interviews with recruiters, establishing rapport and trust and coaching recruiters on how to effectively refer network associates for counseling, testing and referral," the researchers write. According to CDC's Lisa Kimbrough, organizations that provide comprehensive HIV services are best equipped to run this type of program because they already have a base from which to enlist recruiters and to which recruiters can refer network contacts (Gale, Reuters Health, 6/23).

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