The number of new HIV diagnoses in New York City has hit an all-time low — again.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told the Daily News that 2,157 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2017, down 5.4% from the 2,279 diagnosed in 2016, which was a record low that year.
“I love the news this year. It really is showing an evolution of what’s happening with the epidemic in New York City,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the deputy commissioner for disease control, told The News. “We have fewer people diagnosed with HIV this year, again a historical low.”
It’s a 64% drop since the city began reporting new HIV diagnoses in 2001, when more than 5,900 people were diagnosed.
A person diagnosed in 2017 didn’t necessarily contract HIV that same year — he or she may have been infected years earlier. The city also tracks an estimated number of new infections per year, a number that’s also tumbling, Daskalakis said — down 36% since 2013, which he called “a really amazingly steady rate.”
“With all of the work happening in New York, we’re testing the right people, we’re diagnosing them, we’re diagnosing them early, before they get sick, and we’ve also seen a decrease in new transmission,” he said.
Daskalakis credits a range of efforts the city has undertaken in recent years.
For example, among those with HIV in the city, 93% know they have the virus, which means they can get treatment that can suppress their viral load. In 2017, 85% of New Yorkers with HIV were virally suppressed, up from 79% in 2013. Studies have shown patients taking anti-retroviral medicines and who maintain an undetectable viral load for six months do not sexually transmit HIV.
“By getting people on meds, they don’t transmit HIV,” he said. “This idea that the undetectable virus is untransmittable, that’s true. We believe that, and I think the world is believing that now too.”
And while the city has seen stable or slightly decreasing condom use in recent years, it’s also noted a big uptick in the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — which can be taken by those at risk of contracting HIV to protect them from being infected.
What all of that means, Daskalakis said, is that the city is getting close to being “status neutral” — a place where people don’t or can’t transmit HIV, even if they have it.
“We are kind of living that dream, and potentially really living that dream of not only eradicating HIV but eradicating all that stigma that it created for 30 years,” he said.
The state has set a goal of getting new HIV infections to below 750 by 2020 — a goal Daskalakis believes is within reach. But he said it might be more realistic to reach no new infections before the city gets to the point of no new diagnoses. According to Daskalakis, it’s not a bad thing that the city is diagnosing people with HIV because it means those individuals are being tested — and can be medicated.
“I’m of the school really that a new diagnosis of HIV is not bad news, because it means you can do something about it,” he said.
This year’s figures also contain good news for a group affected by an increase in new infections last year: women. New diagnoses among women fell by 11.6% — following a push last year to reach out to women at risk of HIV about PrEP — drugs that doctors may have been more likely to recommend to men having same-sex intercourse.
“I can’t really 100% explain it, but the good news is it’s going in the right direction,” he said.