HIV rates among young, gay and bisexual men is on the rise in Chicago, according to a new study done by Northwestern University. Although the transmission of the disease through IV drug use and heterosexual sex has declined, the Centers for Disease Control feels the rise in transmissions can be attributed to younger men, especially young black men.
Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine was recently granted an $8.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the rise of HIV rates. The study will look at Chicago’s Department of Public Health and community organizations.
Data show that in Chicago, new HIV diagnoses of men who have sex with men and are younger than 30 jumped 76 percent from 2000 to 2011, and black men account for most of the increase. Older gay and bisexual men, meanwhile, have seen HIV diagnoses decline or stay steady.
“It makes it challenging, on one hand being encouraged by our successes in reducing HIV … but at the same time making sure that we’re all aware that there’s still this important subgroup that is beginning to carry a greater burden of the epidemic,” said Nikhil Prachand, director of HIV and sexually transmitted infection epidemiology at the city’s health department.
Experts say they don’t fully understand all the factors behind the rise but that the data is a warning that new tactics are needed to stem the spread of the disease.
“It’s really hard to maintain the sense of emergency around HIV that many of us remember from the ’80s and ’90s,” said John Peller, interim president and CEO at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “We need new ways to communicate with gay men and particularly young gay men about their … sexual health and wellness.”
Segregation and socio-economics are believed to be key factors.
“African-American (men who have sex with men) tend to live in predominantly African-American communities, and many of those communities in Chicago have a higher prevalence of HIV,” Prachand said. “They’re using condoms as or more often than other groups and they also have the same number of sex partners. It’s just that the context in which their behaviors occur happens to be in communities where there is more HIV.”