What's the Chance of Dating an HIV Positive?

Dear Christine,

I am recently divorced and back in the dating game. I wonder what my chances are of encountering people who are HIV positive. I live in San Francisco, the city I imagine has the largest number of HIV cases, but my work takes me all over the country. What is the current number of verified HIV positives in the US?


Judy N

Dear Judy,

There is no verifiable number of US citizens who test HIV positive currently or for any year in the past. The numbers that we hear and read are estimates provided by the US Centers for Disease Control, and these estimates are not based on annual test results or even on "sentinel testing" which uses results from a small sample population to extrapolate numbers for the general population.

Official current estimates place the number of HIV positive Americans between 750,000 and 900,000, but “current” is a misleading term as applied here since this is the same figure that's been used since 1996 to make claims about how many people in this country HIV test positive. Interestingly, prior to 1996, the estimated number of HIV positives in the US ranged between 1 and 1.5 million. If you haven’t heard this good news about decreased estimates, you’re not alone. Declines in numbers for HIV and AIDS are rarely mentioned in the media or by AIDS groups unless they can be tied to assumptions about effects of AIDS drugs or safe sex.

When it comes to the numbers, we usually hear only the highest of the official 750,000 to 900,000 estimate. One example is found in this recent statement made by US Health and Human Services director Tommy Thompson:

“An estimated 900,000 Americans are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, but as many as a quarter of them do not know it.”

If you think about Thompson’s remark, how could anyone know that 25% of people estimated to be positive don’t know they are positive if the supposedly positive people don’t even know this themselves? Do 75% of people who test positive already know they are positive before they test? If so, how?

The city of San Francisco where you live presents another interesting paradox. Widely regarded as the epicenter for AIDS in the US and reported in the summer of 2000 to be suffering from “Sub-Saharan rates of HIV infection,” according to a study authored by Dr Mitchell Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the number of persons testing HIV positive in that city actually peaked in 1982. The evidence for this fact comes from tested stored blood samples taken from city residents in hepatitis B studies. This means the highest ever number of people in San Francisco testing HIV positive occurred two years before HIV was announced as the probable cause of AIDS and the first campaigns for safe sex could even begin, and five years before the first AIDS drug was approved for use.

Below is some other interesting data from San Francisco, a city that receives some $70 million in federal AIDS funding each year.

Good luck with dating!

Take care,


Good News is No News
By Michael Petrellis
July 31, 2003

This week, amid the clamor of alarm and fear emanating from the US Centers for Disease Control's biennial HIV prevention conference, the San Francisco Department of Public Health quietly released its monthly epidemiology report for June. The good news it contains has been completely ignored by the media and AIDS groups.

A total of 53 positive test results were reported in San Francisco at the midyear point in 2002, and 55 HIV positive results were recorded during the first six months of 2003. A slight increase, yes, but essentially these are the same numbers two years in row, and a level rate despite an increase in tests being performed.

The number of HIV tests performed through the end of June 2002 was 1223, while there were 1273 tests through the end of June 2003.

Apparently the fact that the number of new HIV infections in San Francisco is as flat as the state of Kansas is not newsworthy since all local HIV and AIDS groups remain silent about the drops.

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