Unsafe sex

Jun 11, 2008 at 12:00 am

When Eve Mokotoff, HIV epidemiology manager with the Michigan Department of Community Health, discusses the results of the latest annual review of HIV trends in Michigan, she labels them "stunning."

And by stunning, she doesn't mean a thing of beauty. It's more like the shock or a hammer blow to the head.

African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed with HIV, with people younger than 25 at the highest risk, according to the annual report analyzing new HIV diagnoses in 2006 by race, sex and age.

"When you see frightening trends like this, you need to do something about it," Mokotoff says.

Rates among adolescents and young adults — ages 13 to 24 — increased for the third consecutive year, and about three-quarters of new diagnoses in that age group were among African-Americans, compared to 59 percent of persons diagnosed at older ages.

Michigan had 908 new HIV diagnoses in 2006, down from 964 in 2005 and 922 in 2004 but up from 889 in 2003. Southeast Michigan accounts for about two-thirds of new diagnoses, Mokotoff says.

The highest rate of new diagnoses in 2006 — the latest data available — was among African-American men, ages 25-44, who had sex with other men.

"I think that is stunning. It means we're not doing a very good job of preventing HIV in that population," Mokotoff says. "We need to really do some soul searching about what kind of prevention we're doing in this group."

That means educating about prevention and safe and responsible sex, advocates say, as well as getting people tested so they can get treatment if needed.

At the Ruth Ellis Center — the Highland Park shelter and social service agency for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens — HIV education occurs every day, says Jack VanHecke, director of development and public relations. "Although we do not require testing to be part of our programs, we certainly have reminders to get testing," he says. The message is: "Know your status. Know the status of your partners."

Meanwhile, in a national survey, Detroit teens' sexual behaviors may continue to be putting them at risk. The Centers for Disease Control last week released the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey that monitors health risk behavior related to injuries and violence, tobacco, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behavior, physical activity and obesity and dietary behaviors.

Detroit high schoolers who were part of the survey had less risky behaviors than students nationally when it came to alcohol or drug use. But they also were less likely to have used condoms, were more likely to be sexually active and had more partners. Full results can be viewed at cdc.gov.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]