Friday, February 5, 2010

Black and Hispanic infants far more likely to contract HIV

Although overall cases of infant HIV are down, Black and Hispanic rates of infection still outpace that of whites.

Rates of HIV infection in infants are still significantly higher among blacks than whites, and public health officials need to act to close that gap, a new study says. Although the number of HIV-infected infants has declined overall, the rate of perinatal HIV infection among black babies is still 23 times higher than the rate for whites. (Perinatal infections are transmitted to babies at birth). The study, published in Thursday’s issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found that the rate of infection was four times higher for Hispanic babies than for whites. Yet not all was bad news: researchers noted that overall the number of perinatal HIV infections has dropped 90 percent since 1990. The study analyzed data from 34 states from 2004 to 2007, and noted that transmission from an HIV-infected mother to her child can be significantly reduced through preventive measures. “To further reduce perinatal HIV transmission and racial/ethnic disparities, HIV-infected pregnant women, and particularly black and Hispanic women, should receive timely prenatal care, early antiretroviral treatment, and other recommended interventions,” researchers said.

The CDC report coincides with the release of another report Thursday that analyzes public health officials’ efforts to reduce HIV transmission among African Americans, particularly men. That report gave credit to community-based organizations for providing front-line services to individuals and feedback to federal agencies on the need for those services. However, the report found that African Americans continue to account for an inordinately high number of new HIV cases, and that efforts to reach members of the African American community have fallen short of where they need to be. Most of those new cases are triggered through sexual contact, especially among men having sex with men (MSM), while fewer cases are being spread through intravenous contact, according to the report.

“Blacks and Hispanics in the United States have been disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, compared with non-Hispanic whites, since the early days of the epidemic...Although the CDC’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS among Blacks have achieved some success, more must be done to address this crisis,” CDC officials wrote in the report.

Meanwhile, other agencies are doing what they can to destigmatize the disease and reflect its growing status as a disease that can be managed, rather than an automatic, if eventual, death sentence. Last month the CDC and the federal Department of Health and Human Services removed HIV from the list of communicable diseases that prevent non-citizens from entering the United States.

Have public health officials done enough to protect at-risk populations from the spread of HIV? What do you think?

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