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HIV Rates For U.S. Urban Black Women Much Higher Than Previous Estimates

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by Healthy Living News

AIDS experts are surprised and alarmed by results of a new study showing that the number of new cases of HIV infection among black women in several American cities is significantly higher than previously estimated. The infection rates are equal to those in some parts of Sub-saharan Africa.

The findings were presented at the19th annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle.

The study, known the Women’s HIV Seroincidence Study, or ISIS, sought to measure new infections among women, as well as understand the causes of those infections.

It examined at-risk women in the HIV urban “hotspots” of Baltimore, Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Washington, D.C., Newark, N.J., and New York City.

The study found that the rate of HIV infection is five times higher for black women than previous CDC estimates. The rate is comparable to HIV infection rates of several countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as the Congo and Kenya, underscoring the seriousness of the study results. The study also found that those HIV infected Black women are twice as likely to die of AIDS than HIV infected white women.

“While we have always known that African-Americans had a higher risk of HIV infection than other American racial groups, this study confirms it and underscores the severity of the national and local problem, especially in cities,” says study site leader was co-investigator Anne Rompalo, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins.

Women of all races account for a quarter of new HIV infections each year in the United States. Sixty-six percent of these women are black, even though African-American women represent only 14 percent of the U.S. female population.

“This study clearly shows that the HIV epidemic is not over, especially in urban areas of the U.S. where HIV and poverty are more common, and sexually active African-American men and women are especially susceptible to infection,” says study investigator, Charles Flexner, M.D.,  of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine .

Prevention efforts may have to be significantly altered and enhanced to slow down the rate of these new infections the researchers believe.

“We, as care providers and policy makers, have our job cut out for us in devising HIV prevention programs targeted to sexually active men and women in Baltimore and other cities,” added Dr. Flexner.

The researchers believe prevention tactics should include more counseling about sexually transmitted infections, distribution of condoms, and intensive education about safer sex practices.

Others expressed concern that now that HIV infection does not equal a death sentence, people are letting their guard down.

Yet the study did show a higher rate death among the black women in the study. That means treatment access and adherence efforts will need to be modified along with prevention efforts. Health care reform (Obamacare) may also help alleviate some aspects of the problem by ensuring better access to care.

But the new study also raises an unsettling question: in what other HIV high risk groups may the CDC be underestimating the rates of infections?

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