The AIDS epidemic, which has claimed over a million lives in the United States, is on the decline for most people. According to a new report from the American Medical Association, HIV diagnoses have dropped by 30 percent over the course of a decade. However, HIV diagnoses actually increased in younger gay males.
The report shows that 16 out of every 100,000 people 13 and older were diagnosed with HIV in 2011, a drop from 24 out of 100,000 people in 2002.
The steady decline was seen in men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, heterosexuals, and injection drug users. However, the HIV infection rate increased in younger gay men, according to the research.
When the study began in 2002, physicians diagnosed approximately 24 out of every 100,000 patients with HIV. Researchers studied HIV diagnoses recorded by health departments in every state across the country, which includes test results from doctors’ office, clinics, hospitals and labs.
By 2011, that rate was down to 16 diagnoses per 100,000 patients.
The reason for the decline in HIV diagnoses is not exactly clear. There could be a number of reasons for the decrease, including a reduced spread of the disease or the increased use of preventative methods. Either way, experts see a decrease in HIV as a good thing.
“It’s encouraging,” said Patrick Sullivan, an Emory University HIV and AIDS researcher. Sullivan was not involved in this study on HIV diagnoses.
“It could be we are approaching something of a ‘ceiling effect,'” said one study leader, David Holtgrave of Johns Hopkins University. This ceiling effect means that patients who have carried the virus for months or years have already been diagnosed, which would leave only new cases to be recorded in the research without a true drop in the infection rate.
The increase in HIV in gay men could be attributed to several factors. Researchers speculate that the rise in HIV in this demographic could be due to the lack of condom use. The sector that have seen HIV increases were too young to remember the horrific impact the AIDS epidemic.
“It’s been more than 30 years since the first cases were reported,” co-author Amy Lansky said. “It’s harder to maintain that sense of urgency.”
The study was unveiled at the International AIDS Conference that took place on Sunday in Melbourne, Australia. Six AIDS experts who died on the doomed Malaysian Airlines flight that crashed over eastern Ukraine Thursday were en route to the conference, which takes place every two years.