CDC reports false HIV epidemic numbers

August 2, 2008 4:00:57 PM PDT
The HIV epidemic in the U.S. is about 40 percent worse than the government has been reporting for more than a decade, according to new infection estimates released today by federal researchers.

About 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the U.S. in 2006, which is roughly 40 percent higher than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's previous estimate of 40,000 infections per year.

"The HIV epidemic is and has been worse than previously known," CDC's director of AIDS prevention, Kevin Fenton, said during a teleconference today.

While the figures are higher than previously thought, the new estimate doesn't represent an actual increase in the annual number of new HIV infections, Fenton said. The previous estimates were based on limited data and less precise methods. The epidemic has been roughly stable since the late 1990s.

"The fact remains that there are far too many people becoming infected with HIV in the U.S. each year," he said. "The HIV epidemic is far from over."

The highest prevalence of HIV infections is among gay and bisexual men of all races and among black women and men, according to the CDC estimates.

"There is no national U.S. plan that includes not only prevention, but also treatment and care," Fenton said. "We must recognize this epidemic as the crisis that it is and match our response."

The government's response so far has been inadequate, according to Mark Cloutier, chief executive officer of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which links community experience with science to develop prevention programs and policy initiatives.

"The federal response to HIV prevention has unnecessarily endangered tens of thousands of Americans," Cloutier said in a prepared statement. "With this new, alarming estimate of HIV incidence, it would be public health malpractice not to act immediately to drive new infections down. There is no excuse to further delay refining and expanding evidence-based HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs."

The CDC has had the new figures since October, Fenton said. They agency planned to release the information Sunday at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, but an embargo was broken and therefore the information was released to the public today.

The study is being published in the Aug. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.