By: Chelsey Sellars for The Center for Black Health & Equity
Numbers, cases, new diagnoses – we have been hearing those terms every day pertaining almost exclusively to COVID-19 since last year. Yet, as we are navigating through a new pandemic, the HIV epidemic is still being mindfully watched.
In the last few years, fewer people have been diagnosed with HIV particularly among the White population. This 7% decrease reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a stat that could be celebrated, but should not overshadow the fact that the fight is still seriously underway for Black Americans. While HIV rates among Whites saw a decrease from 1998 to 2018, African American HIV cases actually increased from 39% to 41% during that same time period. Trends say that 1 in 2 gay Black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.
More than one million people are living with HIV and some of them may not even know it. As of 2018, the CDC identified these cities to have the highest rate of HIV in the country:
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
Columbia, South Carolina
There is a common theme among most of these cities. They have a large Black population, significant issues with poverty and are geographically located in the South. Of the 37,968 new cases of HIV reported in this study, Black people accounted for 42% of them. Apart from socioeconomic challenges, a lack of testing and fear of stigma may cause many Black people to avoid getting tested to learn of their status. They may also be hesitant to later seek care after a new diagnosis.
Over a year into this pandemic, and we are still learning about how COVID-19 can affect our bodies. A major concern often raised as the virus spreads is how COVID-19 affects people with autoimmune conditions. JAMA Network studied almost 3,000 people in New York who were diagnosed with both HIV and COVID-19 from March 1 to June 15 of last year. The study suggests that those with HIV are more likely to be diagnosed and hospitalized with the virus. The mortality rate is higher as well, compared to those who are not living with HIV.
Compared to the time in which the study took place, the United States is in a more hopeful and equipped stage of this pandemic. Vaccines are readily available, so most of us can get them for free to protect ourselves and others with weaker immune systems. The CDC recommends people living with HIV should avoid exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible. Apart from masks and social distancing, the CDC says continuing HIV treatment and keeping your immune system healthy is helpful too.
Learn more about HIV prevention, testing and fighting stigma at https://www.cdc.gov/stophivtogether.