Reasons for optimism, and caution, in DC’s annual HIV report

Blood samples and test results in a clinical medical laboratory. 3D illustration(Getty Images/iStockphoto/solarseven)
D.C. continues to show steady improvement in the battle against HIV, with the number of new cases in 2020 continuing a yearslong decline going back more than a decade.

While most of the statistics in the D.C. Health Department’s newly-released 2020 data — long delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic — are good news for the city’s ongoing fight against HIV transmission, District health officials warned the news should be received with some caution.

City leaders said 2020 saw an overall decline in HIV testing. But the results showed a total of 217 new HIV cases, which represents a nearly 25% drop from 2019. It is also an 85% drop going back to 2007, when nearly 1,400 new cases of HIV were reported.

Most cases of HIV tracked by the report were transmitted sexually, with 80% of the new cases diagnosed in male and transgender residents. No babies born in 2020 were born with HIV.

Just one case involved transmission through the sharing of needles to take drugs, with the District crediting a needle exchange program for the improvement — in 2007, 150 new HIV cases were attributed to dirty needles.

Today, around 12,000 D.C. residents are known to be living with HIV. About three-fourths of them sought treatment at least once in 2020, and about two-thirds are considered “virally suppressed.”

More than half of those living with HIV in D.C. are age 50 or older.

History of HIV infections in the District, showing a persistent decline starting around 2007 with the implementation of expanded testing and a needle exchange program. (Courtesy DCH)

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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