Sunday, October 22, 2006

No STD Testing for "Gay" Men "Marrying" with Skyrocketing HIV Rates

Let's see. No more blood tests for STDs are required before getting married in Massachusetts...

Meanwhile, The Advocate (a national homosexual magazine) reported on anticipated skyrocketing HIV rates among homosexual males as they age over the next decade: 1 in 4 homosexuals now 20 years old are expected to be HIV-positive by age 30 (though only about half of that group are HIV+ now). "Prevention" is mentioned as the pressing need, but not discussed. (The blog comments on QueerToday are enlightening; see below.)

From The Advocate:
Study: Succeeding generations of gays will have higher HIV rates
According to the results of a new study released at the international AIDS conference in Toronto on Thursday, HIV prevalence is set to skyrocket among Western gay men as they age. The University of Pittsburgh report, a review of papers published in journals, indicates that the number of new cases of HIV has been rising by about 1.9% each year since 2001, which means that as gay men as a group get older, more and more of them will become HIV-positive, Agence-France Presse reports."Ongoing incidence rates at this level will yield very high HIV prevalence rates within each generation of gay men," University of Pittsburgh researcher Ron Stall told AFP.

Although only one in 12 gay men at age 20 were infected with HIV in North America and Europe in 2001, Stall and other researchers project that the rate could rise to one in four by the time they turn 30. At age 60, the projections suggest that 58% of the men could be infected.

The numbers are more dire for gay men of color: 4% of them between the ages of 15 and 22 are currently infected, while 15% between the ages of 23 and 29 are infected. At an average annual rate of increase in new infections of 4%, three quarters of black gay men in the latter age category will be infected with HIV at age 50. "It's not a new story; it has been repeated time and again in the literature in the almost unbelievable incidence rate," Stall said to AFP. "African-American men who have sex with men suffer among the highest HIV prevalence rates of any risk group in the world."

The report's findings only underscore the need for better ways of preventing HIV infection, instead of just treating its effects. "HIV is still an incurable disease," Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the National Center for HIV at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told AFP. "In the United States, 5% [of the budget for HIV] is spent on prevention." He added: "America is more interested on treating this disease than preventing it. We can't treat our way out of this epidemic, even as a rich country."

QueerToday's comments:
In 2006, twenty-five years after the AIDS epidemic first made its appearance, I still hear things like: "Can you get it from kissing?" or "Can you get it because some cum got on my chest?" or "you look healthy so you don't have to use a condom with me." After hearing comments like these, I have to conclude that a major part of the problem is widespread mis-education.

It is often said that "this isn't the '70s" and so we have to just accept that the sexual landscape has changed. We can no longer have "carefree" sex anymore, some say. Use a condom everytime, HIV prevention specialists say. And they are right--indeed, the sexual landscape has changed and if you are going to have anal sex, USE A CONDOM.

But what HIV prevention specialists also have to take seriously is that this is also not the late '80s and early '90s. Since 1996, anti-retroviral drugs have significantly prolonged the lives of people who are HIV+. Furthermore, the antibody tests have become far more sensitive and now, with the fourth generation antibody tests you can actually know whether or not you are positive only six weeks after a risky encounter! The CDC still recommends three months, but in the state of Massachusetts, six weeks is considered definitive.

With the window period for testing getting smaller, the antiretroviral drugs getting more effective and side-effects becoming more manageable, we may be seeing more incidents of unprotected sex because people are becoming more relaxed and experimenting with new ways to keep themselves safer--e.g. serosorting. People are using "trial and error" to negotiate the changing effects of HIV. But unfortunately, with a lot of "trial" comes a lot of "error" and the rate of new infections continue to rise.