Minnesota Reports 326 New HIV/AIDS

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Reported new cases of HIV infection in Minnesota reached 326 in 2008 compared to 325 new cases in 2007 and 318 cases in 2006, according to a new report from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), "HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report – 2008."

A total of 8,819 HIV/AIDS cases have been reported, including 2,976 people who have died, since MDH began tracking AIDS in 1982 and HIV in 1985. An estimated 6,220 people are currently living with HIV in Minnesota. On average, MDH received a new reported HIV case every 27 hours in 2008.

"The annual number of cases appears to be inching upward," said Peter Carr, director of the STD and HIV Section at MDH. "We have averaged about 300 cases per year starting in 2001 until recently when we saw about 320 cases being reported each year for the last 3 years."

Health officials noted the increases seen among males, ages 13 to 24, where cases have more than doubled since 2001. There were only 18 new cases reported in 2001 compared with 42 cases in this age group in 2008.

MDH data show that of the 326 new HIV infections reported in 2008, 238 were male and 88 were female. While cases among males decreased by four percent overall, cases among white males and among men who have sex with men both increased by 13 percent.

Cases among women represented 33 percent of the total cases reported in 2008. Although the number of cases remained stable among women of color, they still represented 69 percent of all new cases among women. The data also indicated higher rates of infection among certain ethnic and racial groups.

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Infection rates are higher among communities of color when compared to whites. About 38 percent of all new cases reported in 2008 were among men of color. Statewide rates for African Americans and Latinos are nearly 10 and five times greater, respectively, than whites. Rates for African communities are over 24 times greater than for whites.

"Socioeconomic status appears to be the most important factor in communities and neighborhoods where higher rates of HIV infection are seen," Carr said. "Limited incomes can mean lack of insurance, limited access to health care, poor housing situations, homelessness, social stigma, risks associated with incarceration, and marginalized social status."

MDH data show that about 31 percent of persons diagnosed in 2008 were considered "late testers" which means that they already had AIDS when they were initially tested for HIV or were diagnosed with AIDS less than one year after the initial diagnosis. An AIDS diagnosis usually occurs after being infected with HIV for five to ten years. Latinos had the highest percentage of "late testers" compared to all other population groups at 43 percent. This may be due to cultural and language barriers.

To help find undiagnosed HIV infections, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) call for health providers to routinely provide HIV testing during general health screenings and exams.

"Getting tested and getting into care if you are positive is of utmost importance," said Carr. "The new treatments and combination therapies have added years of life to those who are HIV positive. Being in care also allows those who are infected to learn how to prevent transmission to others."

Health officials point out that routine HIV testing of pregnant women has dramatically reduced the rate of transmission from infected mothers to their infants – from 25 percent to less than two percent once they received care during their pregnancies.

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV, but health officials emphasize that the spread of HIV infection remains highly preventable. Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in reducing HIV transmission. The spread of HIV can also be prevented by avoiding the sharing of needles or equipment to tattoo, body pierce or inject drugs.

To help curb the epidemic in Minnesota, the STD and HIV Section at MDH currently funds 22 programs through 16 agencies aimed at preventing the spread of HIV in adults and young people of all races. The Office of Minority and Multicultural Health (OMMH) at MDH provides funding to eight community-based organizations to help them educate and teach skills that impact individuals, organizations, and communities in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS.

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