A new report has found that a staggering 1 in 5 men who have sex with men in 21 major US cities have HIV, with almost half unaware of their positive status.
The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that 19 percent of men who have sex with men (MSM) are infected with HIV, and 44 percent of those men are unaware of their infection.
In the study, young MSM and MSM of color were least likely to know their HIV status.
“This study’s message is clear: HIV exacts a devastating toll on men who have sex with men in America’s major cities, and yet far too many of those who are infected don’t know it,” said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
“We need to increase access to HIV testing so that more MSM know their status, and we all must bring new energy, new approaches, and new champions to the fight against HIV among men who have sex with men.”
The CDC study tested 8,153 MSM in 21 cities participating in the 2008 National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System (NHBS), and examined HIV prevalence and awareness of HIV status among this group.
While MSM of all races and ethnicities were severely affected, black MSM were particularly impacted: 28 percent of black MSM were HIV-infected, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic and 16 percent of white MSM.
The study also found a strong link between socioeconomic status and HIV among MSM: prevalence increased as education and income decreased, and awareness of HIV status was higher among MSM with greater education and income.
While young MSM (under age 30) had lower HIV prevalence than older men, they were far more likely to be unaware of their HIV infection. Among MSM aged 18-29 who had HIV, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) were unaware, versus 37 percent for men age 30 and older.
“It is critical that we reach these young men early in their lives with HIV prevention and testing services and continue to make these vital services available as they become older,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.
CDC estimates that the majority of new sexually transmitted infections are transmitted by individuals who are unaware of their infection, and studies show that once people learn they are HIV-infected, most take steps to protect their partners. Therefore, because undiagnosed infection likely plays a major role in HIV transmission, reaching younger MSM with regular HIV testing is critical.