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HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men increased for the third straight year in 2002, the CDC said Monday.
Dr. Harold Jaffe, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, presented the findings at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta. Data from 25 states with HIV reporting showed the number of new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men rose 7.1 percent from 2001 to 2002. The new numbers represent an increase of nearly 18 percent since 1999.
New York, Florida and California --- states with high HIV rates --- were not included in the study.
The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases had decreased steadily throughout the 1990s.
"[The findings] add to the growing concern over the possibility of a resurgence of HIV in these populations," said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, a CDC deputy director.
The rates of new HIV diagnoses in other high-risk groups, such as intravenous drug users, have remained stable since 2001.
Valdiserri cited several factors that may be contributing to the increase. Better medicine may lead to a false sense of security, so-called "AIDS complacency." People may experience burnout from repeatedly hearing the same prevention message.
And in men who have sex with men, untreated sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, can increase the transmission of HIV.
But Valdiserri noted that the increase in diagnoses does not necessarily represent an increase in the incidence of HIV. The numbers could reflect a change in testing behavior, with more previously infected people getting tested.
"We don't know if a person being diagnosed has had HIV for 10 months or 10 years," Valdiserri said.
Starting in 2004, the CDC will have a new national HIV surveillance system that will make it possible to distinguish new HIV infections from old ones.
Jaffe also presented preliminary data showing 42,136 AIDS diagnoses in the United States last year, a 2.2 percent increase from the previous year, and 16,371 AIDS deaths, a 5.9 percent decline from 2001.
Valdiserri cited treatment failure, difficulty adhering to complex treatment regimens and delayed treatment as reasons why more progress has not been seen.
Valdiserri said the numbers should serve as a reminder that although effective treatments are an essential part of the fight against HIV, "the only truly effective protection against consequences of AIDS is to prevent HIV infection in the first place."
Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution