While this case is troubling, the larger public-health concern remains brand-new HIV infections. The New York City health department lacks historical data on the numbers of gay and bisexual men who have acquired ordinary STDs. But the proportion of homosexually active men who test HIV-positive at city STD clinics has fallen from 47 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 1998, with strong drops among all racial groups, a hopeful sign. Still, health department officials warn against complacency, noting that, in a local study of more than 500 young gay men, more than a third acknowledged having unprotected anal intercourse over the previous six months. That proportion did not vary much by race.
Denning did not break down his figures by race, a fact Abrams calls "surprising" and "unfortunate" because "all indicators show that something different is going on among black and Latino men." Just last month, the CDC reported that blacks and Latinos account for more than half of all AIDS cases among men who have sex with men.
Preventing a national resurgence of HIV among gay men will cost money, but Abrams points out that Congress, in a bill sponsored by Jesse Helms and passed years ago, bars federal funding for "explicit" safer-sex messages aimed at gay men. So, he says, "We're in a quandary. On one hand, the CDC does a tremendous job of getting the info out, but we can't get money to pay for the work that needs to be done."