From: Reuters
Published November 26, 2007 05:37 PM

Capital has severe HIV epidemic, report finds

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington, D.C., has the highest rate of AIDS in the United States, and more babies are born with the AIDS virus in Washington than in other U.S. cities, according to a report released on Monday.

People living in Washington also are not getting tested for HIV and show up with advanced infections that progress quickly to AIDS, the report by city health officials found.

The report found that Washington, with a population of around 600,000 people, has a rate of 128 AIDS cases per 100,000 people in 2006, compared with a national rate of 14 cases per 100,000. The city accounted for 9 percent of all pediatric AIDS cases in the United States during 2005.


"The District's rate for newly reported AIDS cases is higher than rates in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Detroit and Chicago," the report said.

Of the 12,428 people infected with HIV in Washington, 80 percent are black, the report found. More than 8,300 had fully progressed to AIDS and 224 died of AIDS in 2006.

"Heterosexual contact in the District is the leading mode of HIV transmission at 37 percent of newly reported infections, while nationally men who have sex with men lead new transmissions," it said.

The report, the first to look at the HIV epidemic in Washington specifically, found that nearly 70 percent of all people with HIV developed full-blown AIDS within a year, which means they were diagnosed years after having been infected.

This compares with 39 percent nationally.

Dr. Shannon Hader of Washington's Department of Health said the report does not examine why Washington is hit so hard by the human immunodeficiency virus.


"We have a lot of transmission going on among heterosexuals, we have a lot of transmission going on with men who have sex with men and we have a lot of transmission among injecting drug users," Hader said in a telephone interview.

Washington has a unique status among U.S. cities. When it was established as the U.S. capital, it was kept apart from states and put under congressional management, although it has an elected mayor and city council.

Hader said the city has adopted a policy of routine HIV testing, which means people should get the test whenever they get a check-up or visit an emergency room.

Currently, people usually have to specifically ask to be tested for HIV.

Hader said the city aimed to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV to zero by 2009 with better testing and treatment of pregnant women. Women who take HIV drugs around the time of delivery are far less likely to transmit the virus to their babies.

Chip Lewis of the Whitman-Walker clinic, an HIV treatment center in Washington, said the report shows the need for universal HIV testing.

"This is a 100 percent preventable disease," Lewis said by telephone. Yet one in 20 adults in Washington has HIV and one in 50 has AIDS, he noted.

"HIV and AIDS has really become a disease that grows in areas of poverty. There is lots of poverty in the District," Lewis said.

The United Nations estimates that 33 million people are infected with the AIDS virus globally, about a million of them in the United States.

(Editing by Will Dunham and Philip Barbara)

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