amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

CDC Revises Number of New HIV Infections Upwards

August 2008—The number of Americans infected with HIV is much higher than previously estimated, according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC’s data shows an estimated 56,300 new HIV infections in 2006, a 40 percent increase from the 40,000 annual number used over the course of the past decade. According to the CDC, the new estimates are due to the introduction of a better blood test and new statistical methods, and represent a stable rate of growth among an infected population that is larger than previously thought. 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, who indicated that other countries may adopt the agency’s methodology.

Subpopulations most affected by HIV/AIDS remain the same, namely men who have sex with men (MSM) and African Americans. But infections are falling among heterosexuals and injection drug users—a tribute to prevention efforts, including nearly 200 syringe exchange programs now operating in 36 states.

Experts and activists in the field are troubled by the CDC’s finding that 53 percent of new HIV infections in 2006 were among MSM, more than a third of whom are younger than 30, and that 49 percent were among African Americans, although they comprise only 13 percent of the overall population.

In response to the new CDC estimates, advocates are now calling for the federal government to increase the domestic HIV/AIDS budget of $18.2 billion, which has been flat-funded for many years, and many are calling for a heightened focus on prevention, which accounts for only three percent of the budget. In July, President Bush signed a $48 billion global AIDS bill to expand the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a program he called “the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history.”

“These new CDC numbers lend credence to what public health officials have long been saying, that HIV is alive and well and thriving in certain communities in the U.S.,” said Rowena Johnston, vice president of research for amfAR. “Using these advanced methods to paint a more accurate picture of the numbers of new HIV infections is important for working out where our prevention messages have worked, and where there is a need for improvement. It’s time to take a precision strike approach towards HIV prevention in this country.”