It is important to establish a few key elements first – how is HIV transmitted?   HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, and vaginal fluids, as well as from mother to infant (perinatal transmission) via birth or breastfeeding.  “Risky behaviors” include anal, vaginal, and oral sex, and injection substance use.  Things that can be done to reduce the risk of transmission include – using condoms, using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), suppressing viral load (if HIV positive), knowing your HIV status, getting screening and treatment for  sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), and using sterile injection tools (needles, etc.).   Notice that I did not mention anything as far as gender identity, sexual orientation, or race/ethnicity.

Now to your question: “why are HIV infection rates particularly high among Latinos, particularly Latino males?”   HIV as a virus is transmitted as I said above, and can be prevented as I said above.  Your question, however, points to a health disparity (i.e. certain populations, such as Latino males, experience a disproportionate burden of poor health).  Disparities in HIV (and many other health outcomes) are based on structural inequalities in our society – such as poverty, racism/discrimination, and limited (or lack of) access to quality health care services, educational opportunities, sustainable employment, and housing.  HIV infection rates are disproportionately higher among certain populations.  This is due in part to the fact that, in general, individuals have sex with other individuals in their social networks.  Thus, someone might be at higher risk for HIV in a certain population simply because the prevalence of HIV in that particular network is higher than in other networks.  However, the prevalence was fueled by inequities in the society.

The HIV infection rates among young Latino men who have sex with men (MSM) are disproportionately higher in the United States and territories compared to non-white Hispanic males, as it is for Latinos and Latinas via heterosexual contact. For example: Hispanics/Latinos represent about 17% of the US population, yet accounted for approximately 23% of HIV infections among adults and adolescents in 2013 (Census, 2012; CDC, 2015).

In the US, the leading transmission category for HIV diagnosis among Hispanics/Latinos in 2013 was male-to-male sexual contact, accounting for 72% (7,812) including male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use (3%; 285). The second highest transmission category was attributed to heterosexual contact among Hispanic/Latino males and females (21%; 2,238). The estimated rate (per 100,000) of HIV infections among Hispanic/Latino males was three times greater (41.8) than for white, non-Hispanic males (13.8) and almost four times greater for Hispanic/Latino females (7.0) than for white, non-Hispanic females (1.8) in 2013 (CDC, 2015).

Next up:

QUESTION 2: Do you believe the Latino community faces added difficulties because of language barriers, cultural taboos, or immigration issues?

–Gabriela S. Betancourt


The Institute for Latinx Health Equity is a growing collaborative of public health researchers, behavioral scientists, community leaders, capacity building specialists and social justice advocates. We strive to disseminate information about issues pertinent to health disparities and inequity. Follow us, join us, comment and add your voice to ours.

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