CDC Underestimates New HIV Cases by 40%: About 56,000 cases, up from previous estimates of 40,000 cases.
Judging by the new calculations, officials believe annual HIV infections have been hovering around 55,000 for several years.
"This is the most reliable estimate we've had since the beginning of the epidemic," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC's director. She said other countries may adopt the agency's methodology.
According to current estimates, around 1.1 million Americans are living with the AIDS virus. Officials plan to update that number with the new calculations but don't think it will change dramatically, a CDC spokeswoman said.
The new infection estimate is based on a blood test that for the first time can tell how recently an HIV infection occurred.
Past tests could detect only the presence of HIV, so determining which year an infection took place was guesswork — guesswork upon which the old 40,000 estimate was based.
The new estimate relies on blood tests from 22 states where health officials have been using a new HIV testing method that can distinguish infections that occurred within the past five months from those that were older.
The improved science will allow more real-time monitoring of HIV infections. Now, CDC officials say, the estimate will likely be updated every year.
Yearly estimates allow better recognition of trends in the U.S. epidemic. For example, the new report found that infections are falling among heterosexuals and injection drug users.
Some experts celebrated that finding, saying it's a tribute to prevention efforts, including nearly 200 syringe exchange programs now operating in 36 states despite a federal ban on funding for such projects.
But they also lamented the CDC's finding that infections continue to increase in gay and bisexual men, who accounted for more than half of HIV infections in 2006. Also, more than a third of those with HIV are younger than 30.
Some advocates say that suggests a need for more prevention efforts, particularly targeting younger gay and bisexual men.
For years, AIDS was considered a terrifying death sentence, and since 1981, more than half a million Americans have died. But medicines that became available in the 1990s turned it into a manageable chronic condition for many Americans, and attention shifted to Africa and other parts of the world.
Last week, President Bush signed a $48 billion global AIDS bill to continue a program that he called "the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history."
But some advocates complain that CDC's annual spending on HIV prevention in the United States has been held to roughly $700 million since 2001, while costs have risen. (That's about 3 percent of what the federal government spends on AIDS; much of the rest is on medicines, health care and research.)
The new estimate is "evidence of a failure by government and society to do what it takes to control the epidemic," said Julie Davids, executive director of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project.
Whether more funding comes or not, the revised estimate clearly is a "wake-up call to scale things up," said Dr. Kevin Fenton, who oversees CDC's prevention efforts for HIV/AIDS.
Some said more attention needs to focus on prevention among blacks, who account for nearly half of annual HIV infections, according to the new CDC report.
A recent report by the Black AIDS Institute concluded that if black Americans were their own nation, they would rank 16th in the world in the number of people living with HIV.
"We have been inadequately funding this epidemic all along. We need to step it up," said former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, who is now an administrator at Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine.
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