The annual number of new HIV infections in young men who have sex with men has increased dramatically over the last five years, according to an article in the New York Times. This increase was particularly significant in blacks and Hispanics.
Data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show that rates of new infection among young men (namely those under thirty) who have sex with men increased by 32%. This rate of increase was even higher for young blacks and Hispanics, at 34%. These elevated rates of infection among young men is especially perplexing in light of the decrease in new infections seen amongst older men who have sex with men -- down by 22%. Currently, NYC has the highest number of AIDS cases and HIV infections -- with about 100,000 of each.
Many efforts have been launched by the city's health department to try to combat this problem, including a condom distribution program, increase in funding for education programs, and easier access to HIV testing. Despite this, infection rates continue to rise in the younger male population, which implies that these efforts are not working
The numbers are indeed troubling, and AIDS experts and city health officials are currently assessing the variables to discover the causes. Significant contributors to the increased infection rates are optimism about AIDS treatment, a growing stigma about HIV among gays that leads to hiding infection from partners, and increased rates of drug abuse. Although the first drug-related source of infection that may spring to mind is intravenous drug use, Dr. Thomas Frieden, NYC's health commissioner, explained that the HIV increase was being fueled by drugs like crystal meth and cocaine. These drugs often lead to reduced inhibitions and long periods of sexual activity, sometimes with multiple partners. To make matters worse, one in four people who have HIV are not aware that they are infected.
Although people with HIV are living longer, vulnerable young men must not become victims of so-called "treatment optimism" and allow themselves to be lackadaisical about protecting themselves from the virus. Until people are more responsible about testing themselves, asking pointed questions of their sexual partners, and using condoms to reduce the risk of infection, it will be very difficult to control the spread of HIV. That one quarter of HIV-positive people are not aware they are infected is inexcusable in light of how easy it is to get tested. Rapid HIV testing clinics provide results in a half-hour. More information on clinic locations and hours is available online.
Using condoms during sexual activity and reducing the number of sexual partners can also have a great impact on the spread of HIV. NYC distributes 3 million free condoms a month through clinics, bars, and restaurants. Information on where to get free condoms is also available online.