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CDPH releases HIV data on MSM
by Wes Lawson

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The Chicago Department of Public Health's ( CDPH's ) board held its monthly meeting May 19 and, for the first time, the Chicago Department of Public Health ( CDPH ) released data describing the rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men ( MSM ) in Chicago. Nikhil Prachand, an epidemiologist in the CDPH's STD/HIV/AIDS division, prefaced the results by calling them "sobering," and his comment was echoed by several others members of the board.

The data collected between August and December of last year sampled 570 MSM at various locations around the city. Of the respondents, 91 of them, or 17.4 percent, tested positive for HIV. Moreover, HIV prevalence was 30.1 percent among Blacks, 12 percent among Hispanics and 11.3 percent among whites. Also worth noting is that Black MSM under the age of 35 were seven times more likely to be infected than white MSM in the same age group ( 30 percent versus 4.2 percent ) .

Of the men who tested HIV positive, over 50 percent were unaware of their HIV infections, including two-thirds of Black MSM ( 67 percent ) ; half of the Hispanic MSM and less than a quarter of the white MSM participants did not know. Among the men unaware of their infection, 50 percent reported not having an HIV test in the past year. In addition, 39 percent of the men surveyed stated that the primary reason for not getting tested was a fear of the results. However, many of the men surveyed had been recently tested, suggesting that the infections had only been recently acquired. Also worth noting is that none of the men who tested positive did not know where to get an HIV test.

The survey also sought to explain some of the racial disparity in the results and the various risk factors for HIV infection. Among the risk behaviors were multiple/concurrent partners, unprotected anal sex with men, drug/alcohol use prior to sex and lack of knowledge of a partner's HIV status prior to sexual activity. Concurrent sexual relationships were more common among Black MSM, with 37 percent of the men surveyed admitting to the practice, compared with 30 percent for white MSM and 28 percent of Hispanic MSM. By contrast, drug/alcohol use prior to sex was a larger factor for white and Hispanic MSM, with 40 and 43 percent admitting to drug/alcohol use before or after sex, respectively, compared to 39 percent among Black MSM.

Although these results were shocking to some, Prachand emphasized that the findings mirrored national data from other large cities, and that programs are already working to close the gaps between the racial disparities in the surveys. Among those programs is the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, which works to stop the spread of HIV among Black MSM and promotes their general well-being.

Assistant Commissioner for the STD/HIV Division Christopher Brown stated, "These baseline data will be used to increase HIV awareness among all MSM and, by working with our community-based partners, to strengthen and expand our community efforts."

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