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AIDS/HIV Resurgence Reported Nationwide

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AIDS cases and new HIV infections appear to be resurging among gay and bisexual men nationwide, according to officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The AIDS epidemic in the United States is far from over," said Dr. Harold Jaffe, director of the CDC branch focused on AIDS prevention. Jaffe will present his findings today in Atlanta at the National HIV Prevention Conference.

The national findings agree with earlier studies done by public health officials in Seattle and San Francisco that found dramatically increased rates of new HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases among gay and bisexual men.

"It's more evidence of bad news for the gay community," said Dr. Robert Wood, director of the HIV/AIDS program for Public Health -- Seattle & King County. Wood, who is gay and has been battling his own HIV infection for 20 years, attributed the recent surge in new infections to complacency, "burnout" or just recklessness.

The CDC found that the number of new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men increased 7.1 percent between 2001 and 2002. The agency's estimate is based on information collected from the 25 states that report HIV and AIDS cases according to CDC requirements, which call for names to be reported to the CDC, something Washington, California and other states do not allow.

Jaffe and his colleagues said new HIV diagnoses in the gay and bisexual population studied have increased nearly 18 percent since 1999 and preliminary data show a 2.2 percent increase in new AIDS cases -- indicating the anti-AIDS drugs used by people with HIV may be losing power as the virus becomes more resistant.

"While effective treatments are crucial in our fight against HIV, preventing infection in the first place is still the only true protection against the serious and fatal consequences of this disease," Jaffe said in a CDC statement announcing the report. HIV diagnosis rates in other vulnerable groups have remained stable, he said.

Wood, who is also at the Atlanta conference this week, said the CDC is likely understating the problem given that the agency excluded states such as Washington, California and New York from the study for lack of compliant HIV reporting. Yet these are also some of the states with higher rates of HIV.

"If these states had been included, my guess is the picture would look a lot worse," Wood said. The Seattle-King County study, he noted, found a 60 percent projected increase in new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men.

The CDC distinguished between new HIV diagnoses and new infections because, in most cases, there is no way to determine when a person became infected. But Wood said Seattle and San Francisco public health officials are testing a new method comparing two types of HIV antibody tests that, given certain results, can identify a newly acquired virus.

"What we're seeing is that higher proportion of the new cases are recently infected," he said. The experience in Seattle, Wood said, appears to be an accurate bellwether for what's happening throughout the nation.

"These findings add to the growing concern that we are facing a potential resurgence of HIV among gay and bisexual men," Jaffe said.

The CDC urged HIV testing as a routine part of medical care and a renewed emphasis on prevention.

In Seattle and King County, Wood said, many people in the gay community have taken it upon themselves to sound the alarm about this disturbing new trend and to launch a new campaign encouraging safe sex and personal responsibility.

Several organizations have come together with the health department to form an HIV-prevention task force.

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