Reminder: HIV is Alive In Chicago

A third of gay men in sample group have not been tested in a year

A recent study among Chicago gay men has revealed seriously tragic results, but officials say they aren't surprised -- unfortunately.

The study by the Chicago Department of Public Health examined HIV infection rates among 600 gay men from across the city. They were tested for HIV/AIDS and asked questions about drug use and number of sexual partners.

In the sample group, more than 17% had HIV, but half of them did not know they were infected.

"It's a terrible thing, but it is not surprising," said Jim Pickett, director of advocacy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, reports the Chi-Town Daily News.

In addition, over 200 of the interviewed men did not get tested in the last year because they were worried about the result.

The study also concluded that 30% of African-American gay men tested positive for HIV, while Hispanics and white men had rates of 12% and 11.3%, respectively.

"It's not that Black (gay men) are exhibiting higher risk behaviors in either sex or drug use," said Nik Prachand, an epidemiologist with the city of Chicago's STI/HIV/AIDS division. In fact, data shows African-Americans engage in less risky behavior than white men or Hispanics.

"It's sort of a network effect. When your overall community prevalence is higher, you're going to see elevated rates within subgroups," he explained.

The health department wants to expand testing and outreach programs, especially during this month. June is Gay Pride Month.

"We want to provide them with the right kind of counseling and the right tools to maintain that negative [test result]," said Pickett.

However, health advocates may have to contend with legislators in Springfield, who are currently negotiating the state budget. After lawmakers rejected Gov. Quinn's proposal for an income tax hike, several programs and services could suffer budget cuts.

"Without new revenue, AIDS housing organizations could be forced to close their doors or turn away clients. HIV testing programs might have no staff to reach people at risk for HIV. Funding for essential HIV prevention services statewide remains in jeopardy without a budget plan that increases revenue to cover the cost of health and human services," reports the Windy City Times.

The study's results will be formally released June 9.

Matt Bartosik is the editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and a "between blogs" blogger.

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