Young non-Hispanic blacks are much more likely to be infected with HIV than any other group of young people in the United States
Non-Hispanic blacks between 19 and 24 years of age are 20 times more likely to be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, than young adults in any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to new estimates.
The overall HIV infection rate for young adults is 1 case per 1,000 people. However, the infection rate in this age group among blacks is 4.9 per 1,000, compared to a rate of 0.22 per 1,000 for all other races of similar age, researchers have shown.
The findings, reported in the American Journal of Public Health, are based on a random sample of more than 13,000 19- to 24-year-olds who agreed to be screened for HIV infection as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, or Add Health Study.
Although the prevalence of HIV among young adults in the United States appears to be relatively low, "racial disparity in HIV prevalence is large and established early in life," Dr. Martina Morris, lead author of the report, told Reuters Health.
"The size of the differential was much larger than we expected, especially for this age group," added Morris, a sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
However, the current results parallel racial disparities for other sexually transmitted diseases. For example, rates of gonorrhea are roughly 17 times higher among black youth and rates of syphilis are 12 times higher.
"We see similar disparities across a wide range of sexually transmitted pathogens, which suggests the transmission network is a likely explanation for the prevalence differentials," Morris explained.
It's known, for example, that non-Hispanic blacks are more likely to have overlapping sexual partners, a pattern researchers call "concurrent partnerships," and this may fuel the spread of infection in this group.
"A number of studies have shown that concurrent partnerships increase the connectivity of a transmission network, allowing for faster and more pervasive spread of infection," Morris said. "Bottom line: prevention research should focus on how to reduce the level of concurrent partnerships."
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