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New Type of HIV Outbreak: on college campuses among men who have sex with men and women
  "Despite college HIV outbreak in North Carolina, lack of funding stymies health officials"
Associated Press
March 10, 2004
Daniel Yee, Associated Press
Note from Jules Levin: several days ago I watched a TV news segment highlighting that on college campuses students are more free about sexual experimentation and having multiple partners. They news segment highlighted NYU and Columbia University and how their student newspapers were publishing articles about this with particular note that at NYU the newspaper had a column for students to write in with questions. Not once during the entire news segment was HIV & AIDS mentioned. Instead the NYU columnist, who is a professor at NYU, discussed the main question female students have: should I use condoms or other form of contraception against "pregnancy". But she did not mention the importance of protection from HIV or other STDs.
ATLANTA (AP) - Federal health officials are urging Southern states to be vigilant for signs of campus HIV outbreaks like the one that recently surprised health officials in North Carolina.
But so far, little has been done. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it doesn't have the money to do widespread testing.
Meanwhile, officials worry that unwitting infected students will spread the AIDS virus across the country when they return to their hometowns during class breaks or after graduation.
"There's no way we've diagnosed all the infections," said Dr. Peter Leone, HIV medical director at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. "We have every reason to believe there's continuing ongoing transmission."
Recently, researchers found that more than one in five of North Carolina's new HIV infections among 18- to 30-year-olds occurred in students, and that college students were 3.5 times more likely than non-students to become infected.
Researchers first noticed the increase in 2002. Officials now believe it began in mid-2001 and is ongoing. The North Carolina researchers reported last month that they found 84 newly infected male college students over the past three years, 73 of them black. The cases were linked to 37 North Carolina colleges. Up to a dozen cases related to the outbreak also were found in schools in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
While those numbers are small, they are worrisome because they are higher than expected. Health officials fear there could be many more undetected cases.
Despite the alarm, the government has done little to curb the outbreak, Leone said. No additional federal funding has been provided to health agencies in the South, he said.
"I'm mortified more isn't being done," Leone said. "It suggests apathy at the federal level."
CDC officials say they are doing the best they can. They are providing technical assistance, planning more HIV surveys in North Carolina, and designing an intervention program for young black men who have sex with other men, said Lisa Fitzpatrick withthe CDC.
"The overall problem is that CDC funding has been cut," Fitzpatrick said. "We need money from Washington to trickle down to us so we can help North Carolina."
The agency is urging other states, especially in the South, to check for similar college outbreaks, Fitzpatrick said. However, North Carolina discovered its cases through a new way of testing for HIV that other states are not using yet.
North Carolina officials pooled blood samples of people who tested negative in conventional HIV tests. Then they used a different, faster test that can detect the virus itself, rather than relying on the conventional test that checks for antibodies which show up in the blood later.
While all but two of the men infected in the outbreak had sex at least once with another man, they typically did not consider themselves to be gay or bisexual, according to North Carolina's research. Nor did they perceive themselves to be at risk of infection, said Leone, who added that prevention messages should focus on behaviors rather than sexual identity.
That finding worries health officials who fear their prevention messages -- mainly tailored to strictly gay or straight men -- might not be getting through to those who do not identify themselves as homosexuals, even though they have casual sex with men. Leone said most of the people infected didn't think they were at risk.
"We've been somewhat remiss in focusing on people's sexual identity," Fitzpatrick said. "It doesn't matter what their sexual identity is, we need to focus on their behaviors."
Those infected also frequently traveled outside the state, used the Internet to meet partners and were 34 times more likely than non-college men to have sex with other college students.
"Because of the way we pigeonhole people in this society, we don't think of college students as being at risk for HIV," Fitzpatrick said. "Our prevention efforts have not focused heavily on college campuses ... they are actually an important place to implement prevention activities."
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