A new study conducted for America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed the annual infection rate for HIV is 40% higher than previously estimated.

Fifty-three percent of all new infections occurred among gay and bisexual men, with men and women in the Black community at the second highest rate of infection.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Saturday that an estimated 56,300 HIV infections occurred in the United States in 2006, according to a new study commissioned by the organisation.

The agency had previously estimated 40,000 new cases during 2006.

The new estimate was released at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City in a special issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“These data, which are based on new laboratory technology developed by CDC, provide the clearest picture to date of the US HIV epidemic, and unfortunately we are far from winning the battle against this preventable disease,” said CDC Director Dr Julie Gerberding in a press release.

“We as a nation have to come together to focus our efforts on expanding the prevention programs we know are effective.”

The new estimate of HIV infections in the US during 2006 is the result of a more precise method of estimating the number of individuals who become newly infected with HIV in a given year.

The new method is based on direct measurement of new HIV infections and builds on a new laboratory test that distinguishes recent from long-standing HIV infections, according to the CDC press release.

“It’s important to note that the new estimate does not represent an actual increase in the number of new infections, but reflects our ability to more precisely measure HIV incidence and secure a better understanding of the epidemic,” said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

“This new picture reveals that the HIV epidemic is – and has been – worse than previously known and underscores the challenges in confronting this disease.”

Results of the new study show that new HIV infections remain highest in gay and bisexual men, accounting for 53 percent of new HIV cases.

Men and women in the black community had the second highest incidence of new infection, with incidences of new infection among African-Americans 7 times higher than whites.

Injection drug users were estimated to account for 12 percent of new infections.

“Too many Americans continue to be affected by this disease,” stressed Fenton.

“These new findings emphasise the importance of reaching all HIV-infected individuals and those at risk with effective prevention programmes.”

Although rates of HIV infection continue to be high, the study revealed that the average number of new HIV infections annually continues to remain relatively stable over the last decade.

New HIV infections have dropped from a peak of about 130,000 annually in the mid-1980s to a low of approximately 50,000 annually in the late 1990s.

“Prevention can and does work when we apply what we know,” said Richard Wolitski, PhD, acting director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

“While the level of HIV incidence is alarming, stability in recent years suggests that prevention efforts are having an impact.

“In this decade, more people are living with HIV and living longer than ever before due to advances in treatment. Even though this could mean more opportunities for transmission, the number of new infections has not increased overall.”

Yet, while new HIV cases among heterosexuals continue to drop, HIV incidence among gay and bisexual men has continued to rise since the early 1990s.

“These data confirm the critical need to revitalise prevention efforts for gay and bisexual men of all races and to build upon the growing momentum in the African American and Hispanic communities to confront HIV,” said Wolitski.

“We must all remember that we are dealing with one of the most insidious infectious diseases in history. Reducing this threat will require action from everyone – individuals at risk, community leaders, government agencies and the private sector.”

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