What Was Different About This Year's World AIDS Day?

By Todd Heywood

US Government Changes HIV Website Name: AIDS.Gov is now HIV.Gov

Officials with the CDC announced on Dec. 1 -- World AIDS Day -- that AIDS.Gov, the official portal for all things HIV related from the U.S. government, was changing its name to HIV.Gov.

They said in a blog post the decision was made, in part, because twice as many people were finding the site through internet searches using the term HIV rather than AIDS.

"Today, twice the number of people who come to our website from internet searches use the term 'HIV' rather than 'AIDS,'" officials wrote. "In addition, the majority of the social media conversations we participate in focus on the term '#HIV.' Changing our name to HIV.gov will improve our ability to help our users find the information they need."

But that's not all the post revealed about shifting policy in the department. While it has been known for years that those on successful treatment -- defined as an undetectable viral load -- were highly unlikely to be able to transmit the infection, officials have gone a step further.

"Viral suppression improves health outcomes for people living with HIV (PLWH), reduces HIV-related deaths, and prevents transmission of the virus to others," the blog post reads.

That's a key development since activists and prevention educators have been saying the science shows undetectable means uninfectious. In fact, the results of a partial European study that includes same-sex male couples as well as heterosexual couples found no linked transmissions from the person living with HIV and their HIV-negative partner. That was after over 10,000 acts of condomless sex.

Researchers last year, in reviewing and announcing their findings, said the possibility of transmitting HIV while virally suppressed was "near zero."

Falling Rates of New Infections

So it's a good news, bad news scenario when it comes to the most recent numbers on new HIV infections in the U.S., the CDC reported. First the good news -- the number of new infections has declined by 19 percent between 2005 and 2014. In 2015, 39.513 Americans were diagnosed with the virus, down from an estimated 50,000 a year.

Now the bad news. Men who have sex with men are still being walloped by the epidemic. They represented 87 percent of the infections among men diagnosed, and 67 percent of all new infections. Black MSM accounted for the highest number of new infections -- a trend that has been ongoing since 2004. New diagnoses among this group leveled off in 2010, and in more good news, has seen a marked 2 percent decline among young MSM of color.

The Boogie Man Has No Teeth

The proverbial boogie man of Gaetan Dugas, the reputed "Patient Zero" of the HIV epidemic in the U.S., has been cleared. That mythology dates back to the 1987 release of Randy Shilts book "And the Band Played On." In a press release from the book's publisher at the time, the role of Dugas was trumpeted "the Patient Zero of the epidemic," claiming Shilts had found the man.

As it turns out, Shilts was right on the man's identity, but not much else. Dugas was identified in complex -- and ultimately revoked -- transmission studies from the CDC as Patient O as in the letter O, like Oh. He was not "Patient Zero." He was just one guy linked sexually to several others with HIV.

But then science came into play. Now, using genetic sequencing and with knowledge of the rate at which the virus mutates, scientists have been able to confirm that long before Dugas was dancing in the bars of San Francisco or prowling the halls of various bath houses in the U.S., HIV was here.

This is pretty much common knowledge to anyone with a passing understanding of the history of HIV in the U.S. However, it is important because this mythology was used in official government documents here in Michigan to justify criminalizing people with HIV.

On page 27 of the House Republican Task Force on AIDS report from 1988, lawmakers cited the Shilts' book and the story of Dugas, calling his actions "wanton," and calling for a criminal law. Later that year Michigan adopted one of the first HIV-specific criminal laws. Of course, the law criminalizes only alleged exposure through sex, ignoring needle related exposures; and courts have declined to allow medical evidence to prevent prosecutions of a person with an undetectable viral load to be admitted into evidence.

Right-wing Anti-gay Activist Wants Trump to Defund HIV Prevention for MSM

Linda Harvey, the head of Mission America -- an anti-gay hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center -- has a dream.

"Will CDC continue to treat homosexual behavior as a respectable identity instead of what it actually is -- high-risk, unnecessary deviance that no one needs to engage in?" she asks in a screed on the conservative website World Net Daily.

Her answer is for Rep. Tom Price, a Republican lawmaker from Georgia who is Donald Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, to defund HIV prevention efforts targeting men who have sex with men. Why? Well of course, she opines, any "rational" person in America knows that no one is "born gay," so having anal sex is bad. Apparently, in Harvey's world, only men who have sex with men have anal sex -- and based on her latest screed, all men who have sex with men have anal sex -- and that is the reason they get HIV.

Maybe if she spent a little time reviewing more than the gay content on the CDC website she might be aware that in 2012 the National Survey of Family Growth found that anal sex is quite popular among heterosexual persons ages 15-44. According to that report, 44 percent of straight men and 36 percent of straight women had engaged in anal sex at least once with a partner of the opposite sex.

Harvey wants the CDC -- the federal agency that is supposed to protect the public health -- to condemn all gay sex and promote a strict abstinence-only agenda.


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