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CDC: half of black men who have sex with men will contract HIV

A red ribbon for HIV awareness hangs at a gate.
A red ribbon for HIV awareness hangs at a gate.
Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

In the US, half of black men who have sex with men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. About a quarter of Latino men who have sex with men will as well.

Those are the startling conclusions of a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released Tuesday. It looked at groups at risk for HIV, identifying black men who have sex with men as those at greatest risk.

Here are the results for men who have sex with men (MSM), injection drug users, and people who have sex with the opposite sex:

Men who have sex with men are at the greatest risk of HIV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Here are the results for men who have sex with men, broken down by race and ethnicity:

Black gay men are at the greatest risk for HIV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Overall, black men are at the greatest risk for HIV among different racial and ethnic groups, while white men are at much lower risk:

Black men are at the greatest risk for HIV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Geography matters too. The South and some parts of the Northeast appear to be at the greatest risk:

The South is at a big risk for HIV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The good news: Overall risk for HIV has dropped. A previous report based on 2004 to 2005 data put the lifetime risk for all Americans at 1 in 78. It is now 1 in 99, according to the new CDC report.

HIV is also less deadly than it used to be, largely thanks to antiretroviral medications that can turn the disease from a death sentence into a chronic illness. And we know that condoms can help prevent transmission, as well as new medications like Truvada.

The CDC didn't release the new numbers just to despair at the situation, but rather as a call to action.

"As alarming as these lifetime risk estimates are, they are not a foregone conclusion. They are a call to action," Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention, said in a statement. "The prevention and care strategies we have at our disposal today provide a promising outlook for future reductions of HIV infections and disparities in the US, but hundreds of thousands of people will be diagnosed in their lifetime if we don't scale up efforts now."

Thankfully, even the gridlocked Congress appears to be stepping up the battle against HIV. In December, Congress quietly unlocked some federal funding for clean needle exchange programs that provide clean needles to drug users, which have proved to reduce HIV transmissions without major downsides. Of course, that was only after the federal government banned federal funding for such programs for years, causing unnecessary deaths.

Still, many Americans seem to think of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a thing of the past. For many populations in the US, it's not. The CDC wants to make that clear — and push for more action to stop the epidemic.

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