By Amanda Gardner, HealthDay Reporter
SATURDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- The number of Americans newly infected with HIV each year is, and has long been, higher than what was previously assumed, U.S. health officials have announced at an international conference.
That's because the latest calculations have been arrived at via a new and improved method, they added.
Using the new method, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that about 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the United States in 2006 -- a figure 40 percent higher than the former estimate of 40,000 infections annually.
"This is the clearest picture we've ever had of new HIV infections occurring in the United States," said Dr. Richard Wolitski, acting director of the division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at CDC, which conducted the study.
"This is a wake-up call," he added. "We have to do more as individuals, communities and a nation to make sure we're doing everything we can to stop the further spread of HIV."
The new numbers don't mean that the epidemic is worse than previously thought, simply that the level of new HIV infections has remained stable but at a rate higher than was previously believed.
The findings were to be presented at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City over the weekend. They will also appear in the Aug. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The CDC used new technology, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005, that can distinguish recent from older HIV infections.
Although the number of new infections is higher than once thought, the populations bearing most of the burden remain the same, namely gay and bisexual men (of all races and ethnicities) and black men and women.
"The magnitude of new infections is larger than previously thought, but we have the same picture of who's at risk," Wolitski noted.
"These new CDC numbers lend credence to what public health officials have long been saying, that HIV is alive and well and thriving in certain communities in the U.S.," added Rowena Johnston, vice president of research for the Foundation for AIDS Research in New York City. "Using these advanced methods to paint a more accurate picture of the numbers of new HIV infections is important for working out where our prevention messages have worked, and where there is a need for improvement. It's time to take a precision strike approach towards HIV prevention in this country."
There's much more on HIV/AIDS at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Richard Wolitski, M.D., acting director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, CDC; Rowena Johnston, Ph.D., vice president, research, Foundation for AIDS Research, New York City Aug. 6, 2008, Journal of the American Medical Association