The HIV epidemic in metropolitan Atlanta is concentrated mainly in one cluster of four metro area counties â€“ Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, and Gwinnett that includes 60 percent of Georgiaâ€™s HIV cases, according to a study by researchers in the Emory Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).
In a paper published in the Journal of Urban Health, the researchers found that the rate of HIV in the cluster is 1.34 percent. This fits the World Health Organizationâ€™s description of a â€œgeneralized epidemicâ€ (>1 percent). Outside the cluster, the HIV prevalence in Georgia is 0.32 percent.
The researchers matched HIV prevalence data from the Georgia Division of Public Health, as of October 2007, to census tracts. They also used data from the 2000 census to examine population characteristics such as poverty, race/ethnicity, and drug use.
The large Atlanta HIV cluster is characterized by a high prevalence of poverty along with behaviors that increase the risk of HIV exposure such as injection drug use and men having sex with men.
The investigators also found that 42 percent of HIV service providers in Atlanta are located in the concentrated cluster, which should facilitate prevention and treatment.
“A major aim of our study was to improve public health practice by informing local planning efforts for HIV services,” says corresponding author Paula Frew, MPH, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and an investigator in the Emory CFAR.
With more than 50,000 new HIV infections reported yearly in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to be a major public health problem. The number of HIV/AIDS cases is increasing faster in the South compared to other areas of the country. According to Kaiser State Health Facts, Georgia ranks 9th in the nation in the number of HIV/AIDS cases with more than 3,000 new HIV infections diagnosed in 2007.
The study showed differences between Atlanta and other large cities in the distribution of HIV cases. While cases in several other large cities were concentrated in specific neighborhoods, HIV cases in metro Atlanta are more generalized within the four-county metro area. All the cities, however, were similar in the link between HIV, poverty and men having sex with men.
“Prevention efforts targeted to the populations living in this identified area, including efforts to address their specific needs, may be most beneficial in curtailing the epidemic within this cluster,” Frew says.
Other authors of the paper include Emory CFAR members Brooke Hixson, MPH; Saad B. Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD; and Carlos del Rio, MD.