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Viral rebound?

"Viral rebound?" Continued...

Issue: "Midwest's middle men," Oct. 21, 2000

The virus is taking a disproportionate toll on minority communities, due in part to higher use of intravenous drugs. Together, blacks and Hispanics accounted for 66 percent of all new AIDS cases in 1999. Three times as many Hispanics as whites contracted the disease last year, as did eight times as many blacks. AIDS remains the leading cause of death among blacks between the ages of 25 and 44. Last December in Houston, city officials declared a state of emergency and issued a call to action to slow the rising rate of infection by injection among blacks.

According to a report issued by the Baltimore City Health Department, approximately 18,000 residents of that city are believed to be living with HIV. According to researchers at Baltimore's Institute for Human Virology (IHV), HIV and AIDS are ravaging three zip codes in the city. IHV behavioral psychologist Lydia Temoshok says one older African-American man she counsels at a city AIDS clinic characterized the impact of AIDS on his neighborhood this way: "All my friends are dead."

That was a phrase commonly spoken by homosexual men in the mid-1980s and early 1990s as the virus bloomed into full-blown AIDS and struck down thousands of people, most of them in their 20s and 30s. But Ms. Temoshok, who has studied the epidemic since 1981, fears that more urban African-Americans could soon be repeating the mantra. She reports counseling many in Baltimore who are newly infected with a strain of the virus that is immune to current medication. "We're still 10 years away from developing new medications," she said. "That's plenty of time to develop full-blown AIDS. These are people who don't have access to preventive medical care." Many are injection drug-users and live in poverty.

Some researchers and activists fear that it is the sputtering HIV prevention message, already one-dimensional in its advocacy of condoms as a cure-all, that may give rise to a new wave of death. AIDS activist Cleve Jones said "public education campaigns have slackened because we're not seeing people dying like we did in the '80s and early '90s. We forget that every year there's a whole new class of high-school kids going out into the world. We need to maintain these messages."

In the seven-city CDC study, 41 percent of homosexual males reported that they did not wear a condom during sex. "We're talking of men who are just becoming ... acculturated into the gay social scene," John Hylton of the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health told The Washington Times. The CDC researchers concluded: "Considering their youth, the high prevalence of unsafe sex and the high HIV prevalence in those tested, many of the HIV-negative men are likely to become HIV-infected in the near future."

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