Increases in HIV diagnoses observed among young black men who have sex with men in Milwaukee, Wis., are likely the results of changes in risk behavior and sexual networks, the CDC reports in the Feb. 4, 2011 issue of MMWR.

In 2006, Wisconsin launched a statewide initiative to improve HIV surveillance by encouraging recently diagnosed MSM with HIV to recruit other MSM in their social network to be tested.

To assess the strategy’s efficacy, the CDC collaborated with the Milwaukee Health Department and the Wisconsin Department of Public Health to compare disease rates from 1999-2001 and 2006-2008 between black and nonblack MSM at different ages.

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They found that new HIV diagnoses increased in black MSM aged 15 to 19 years (145%), those aged 20 to 24 years (245%) and those aged 25 to 29 years (78%).

Lesser increases were observed among nonblack MSM aged 20 to 24 years (14%), and those aged 25 to 29 years (45%).

Consequently, new HIV diagnoses decreased among both black (40%) and nonblack MSM (1%) aged 30 years and older.

Additional analyses revealed that in black MSM, the proportion of 15 to 19 year olds among all HIV diagnoses increased from 8% to 16% during the study period. In nonblack MSM the proportion of 15 to 19 year olds among all HIV diagnoses stayed the same at <5%.

“An increase in HIV transmission among young black MSM in Milwaukee County is consistent with a report of increased HIV incidence among MSM nationwide,” the researchers wrote.

They noted that increases in HIV prevalence among this population began before improvements in testing were initiated and that antecedent and concurrent increases in syphilis in young black MSM indicate that changes in risk behaviors and social networks may also be accountable for the changes.

“The concentration of infections among these young men underscores the need for interventions to address their risk for HIV infection,” the researchers wrote.

The Milwaukee Health Department is currently implementing a peer-focused community-based program to promote education and early HIV detection among young black MSMs that could be useful for other communities.