imageAtlanta ranks eighth among the nation’s metro areas in its ratio of HIV infections to overall population, according to a report released last week by the locally-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Gay and bisexual men remain the largest risk group.

To make matters grimmer, men who have sex with men, which the CDC (photo) dubs “MSM,” are now the report’s only high-risk group for whom infection rates continue to rise unabated, especially among African Americans and young adults aged 18-24.

“This is the only risk group in the U.S. in which the annual number of new HIV infections is increasing,” states the latest Incidence Report based on the CDC’s National HIV/AIDS Behavorial Surveillance System. “There is an urgent need to expand access to proven HIV prevention interventions for gay and bisexual men, as well as to develop new approaches to fight HIV in this population.”

While new infections have declined among both heterosexuals and injection drug users, the annual number of new HIV infections among MSM has been steadily increasing since the early 1990s, according to the report.

MSM accounts for nearly half of the more than one million people living with HIV in the United States. While the CDC estimates that MSM account for just 4 percent of the U.S. male population aged 13 and older, the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM in the U.S. is more than 44 times that of other men.

Among all of those who were infected, about half were unaware of their HIV status. Results were particularly alarming for black MSM and young MSM. More than two-thirds of infected black MSM and nearly 80 percent of infected MSM aged 18–24 were unaware that they were infected.

The report looks every 18 months at the most recently available data. The latest report derives its findings from information compiled in 2008.

Miami tops the list of the other most affected cities. Baton Rouge, La., and New Orleans rank second and third, respectively. Baltimore and Jacksonville, Fla., round out the top five. The rest of the 10 cities with the highest infection rates, in order, are Washington, D.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Atlanta, San Juan, P.R.; and New York City.