Health Buzz: New HIV Infections Have Largely Leveled Off in U.S.

Separating HIV/AIDS facts from fiction; why you shouldn't ignore symptoms of STDs.

By + More

But Officials Note 'Alarming' Increase Among Young, Gay and Bisexual Black Men

The total number of new HIV infections in the U.S. remained relatively stable between 2006 and 2009, at about 50,000 new cases each year, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that's far from what public health officials would consider good news. Even one new case of the incurable but largely preventable virus is one too many. In 2006 there were 48,600 new HIV infections, 56,000 in 2007, 47,800 in 2008, and 48,100 in 2009, according to agency findings published in PLoS ONE. Though the numbers didn't vary much from year to year, experts noticed a disproportionately high number of infections among men who have sex with men, who make up an estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population. They accounted for 61 percent—or 29,300—of new infections in 2009. Young, gay black men ages 13 to 29 experienced an "alarming" spike in infections, and were the only group to show a sustained increase during the four-year study, officials said. New infections in that group rose 48 percent, from 4,400 cases in 2006 to 6,500 in 2009. Stigma, limited access to healthcare, and a tendency to underestimate their risk may be driving this trend, researchers noted.

  • A Caution About Rapid HIV Testing
  • Circumcision Doesn't Prevent Transmission of HIV to Women
  • 10 HIV/AIDS Beliefs—Which Ones Are True?

    As if waging war against an incurable virus that plagues 33 million people globally weren't enough, researchers, doctors, and public health officials continue to battle yet another elusive problem: misinformation. Here are 10 myths many have come to believe about HIV/AIDS, U.S. News reported in 2010:

    1. If I had HIV, I would know. Not the case, says Kimberley Hagen, assistant director for the Center for AIDS Research at Emory University in Atlanta. About 1.1 million people in the United States are HIV-positive, and as many as 1 in 5 don't know it, estimates the CDC. Many of them feel perfectly healthy. And those who have symptoms may confuse them with run-of-the-mill flu. Denial also plays a role, say experts. "There is a universal tendency with HIV," says Hagen, to try to say, " 'This is something that will affect someone else and not me.' And so you say that you can't get it doing the things that you do—you can only get it doing the things that other people do. That may be the biggest myth." [Read more: 10 HIV/AIDS Beliefs—Which Ones Are True?]

    • A Young Woman's Battle With HIV
    • HIV Testing for All Women
    • Don't Ignore the Symptoms: Sexual Problems, STDs Affect Millions

      Sexually transmitted diseases often are announced only by nonspecific signs (like abdominal pain and fever), meaning they may easily be mistaken for other illnesses, U.S. News reported in 2008. That's not good, say experts: Certain STDs, undiagnosed and untreated, can wreak havoc, bringing serious and even life-threatening consequences. Here's a list of nine serious STDs—and one that's just a nuisance:

      1. Chlamydia. Nicknamed the "silent disease," chlamydia often does its damage unnoticed; indeed, it produces virtually no symptoms in about half the men and three quarters of the women who get it, according to the CDC. But that can mean trouble, especially for women: Infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and dangerous ectopic pregnancies can result if the infection isn't stopped with antibiotics. While men rarely experience complications, the infection can spread to the tube that shuttles sperm, leading to pain, fever, and a remote chance of sterility. Once a woman has been infected with chlamydia, she is up to five times more likely to contract HIV if exposed to the virus. To avoid serious problems, the CDC urges—at a minimum—annual screening tests for all sexually active women ages 25 and under, as well as tests for all pregnant women. A mother's untreated chlamydia infections can invade a newborn's eyes and respiratory tract, which is why it's the leading cause of pink eye and pneumonia in infants, according to the CDC. [Read more: Don't Ignore the Symptoms: Sexual Problems, STDs Affect Millions]