HYDE PARK — Less than half of Chicagoans with HIV or AIDS are taking medication that is successfully fighting the virus, according to a Chicago Department of Public Health report released Monday.
Of the 23,805 people in Chicago living with HIV or AIDS in 2011, 45 percent had received treatment that had suppressed the virus to the point where it's extremely unlikely they will infect others, according to the report.
The rate of new infections continues to decline in the city, dropping by 15 percent since 2007, and particularly dramatically among drug users sharing needles, according to the report.
Nik Prachand, a researcher at the Chicago Department of Public Health who presented the findings Monday at the University of Chicago’s Center for Care and Discovery, said the culture among drug users has changed in response to the rise of AIDS.
Sharing needles was once a sign of trust among drug users, but is now a faux pas, one of the factors that is helping reduce the rate of new infections by 20 percent, according to Prachand.
Of those diagnosed with the virus in 2010 and 2011, more are being connected to care and successfully put on a drug regimen to suppress the virus than in the past, according to the report.
Chicago continues to connect more patients with care than the nation as a whole. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 37 percent of patients infected with the virus in the United States receive treatment.
New infections have declined for nearly all groups, except young black men who have sex with other men, which continues to remain steady, according to the report.
“We are absolutely encouraged by the progress we’ve seen,” said Craig Johnson of the Chicago Gay Black Men’s Caucus, which promotes HIV testing. “But there is still a disparity when it comes to race, gender and sexual orientation.”
Black men who have sex with other men are three times as likely to contract the disease as white men who have sex with other men, and now account for the largest group in the city that is HIV positive.
Of the 23,805 people living with HIV and AIDS, 3,800 people are estimated to have the infection and not know, according to the report and hospital officials are encouraging more routine testing.
“A lot of people who come to the hospital think they’re going to get tested, so why don’t we test them anyway?” asked Monique Rucker, who oversees HIV testing at Mt. Sinai hospital.
Rucker said the hospital has tested more than 8,500 people in the last two years at the North Lawndale hospital.
North Lawndale and other predominantly black neighborhoods are increasingly seeing the highest rate of new infections. North Lawndale, West Garfield Park, Washington Park, Woodlawn and South Shore now have among the highest rates of new HIV infections. Uptown, Lakeview and Edgewater continue to be among the neighborhoods with the largest number of people living with HIV.
The Chicago Department of Public Health will release a more detailed look at HIV and AIDS treatment in Chicago next month.