CDC to present findings on soaring youth HIV rate in Milwaukee

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Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will return to Milwaukee March 2 to present findings from their investigation into the soaring  rate of HIV infection among Wisconsin youth.

The presentation begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, and is open to the public.

The investigation was launched last fall after public health workers in the state detected an alarming trend: While other demographic groups in Wisconsin saw their HIV-infection rates stabilize or decline from 2001 to 2008, the rate among men ages 13 to 19 who have sex with men rose by 143 percent.

In the Milwaukee metro area, new cases among young African-American MSMs tripled during the seven-year period.

Last fall, CDC investigators set up shop in Milwaukee “to try to figure out what was happening,” said Julie Bock, program coordinator of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. They interviewed service providers, conducted case tracings and held focus groups with MSM youth.

HIV providers in the state hope the findings of the CDC’s epidemiologic surveillance operation will help them reverse the growing youth-infection rate.

Bock said one of the problems likely to be raised in the CDC report is the lack of funding for HIV prevention targeting gay youth in the state.

“There are wonderful youth programs in the city of Milwaukee that reach lots and lots of kids,” Bock said. “But if queer kids go to them, they’re not out when they go. They’re hearing messages that they don’t need to know, like don’t get your girlfriend pregnant.”

The center’s Project Q is the city’s only LGBT youth program, and it’s strained to capacity, Bock said. The program serves 650-700 youth a year, about 125 of whom work with a case manager.

The program’s goal is to get participants to reduce their risks for HIV infection and increase their self-protective behavior, such as eating regularly and attending school. Bock said about 85 percent of Project Q’s case-managed youth achieve that goal.

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