Baltimore Sun/Patrick Smith
October 2, 2010
Baltimore continues to lead major American cities in the percentage of gay men infected with HIV, according to a recently released report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 38 percent of men who have sex with men in Baltimore were infected - twice the overall percentage in the 21 cities studied by the CDC in 2008.More troubling, researchers said, was the number of those who were unaware of their infection. That was nearly three-quarters in Baltimore and rising, compared with about 44 percent nationwide.
While officials locally and federally say the study was somewhat limited, with about 8,000 men surveyed at bars, clubs and other gathering places for gay men, they say the message is clear: Not enough is being done to test and treat the most at-risk group of Americans. They add that it will take effort to overcome barriers such as the stigma of being gay.
"The impact among cities varied greatly, but at least one in four were infected in many cities," Jennifer Horvath, a CDC spokeswoman, said about the report. "It's alarming, and it does point to the importance of ensuring access to HIV testing."
More than half of those testing positive for HIV each year and about half of those living with HIV in the U.S. are gay men, according to the national figures.
The reasons gay men - or according to the CDC category any "men who have sex with men" - don't get tested aren't entirely clear, officials said.
The stigma associated with being gay is still strong, particularly in urban black communities, said Richard Matens, Baltimore's assistant commissioner for chronic diseases. A lot of their activity is hidden from friends and family, not to mention public health officials.