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HIV Cases Rise Among Gay Men in Navajo Reservation

Update Date: May 20, 2013 10:50 PM EDT
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A recent spike in HIV cases among Navajo people, are leaving doctors increasingly concerned that the virus is reemerging on the reservation, particularly among gay men who miss early detection of the virus, according to a report. 

 Infections of HIV are up about 20 percent in 2012 with 47 new cases diagnosed on the reservation near Gallup New Mexico, according to a new report released by the Indian Health Service. The numbers represent the single largest number of annual infections reported by the agency. 

"We're having an increase in the diagnosis partly because we're looking in places we didn't used to look," Lisa Neel, analyst for the Indian Health Service HIV/AIDS program, told Fronteras Desk. "That is supported by the fact that we are finding people earlier in their infection before they are clearly sick with opportunistic infections."

According to the report, gay men accounted for nearly half of the new cases. Early detection of the virus have increased, but the stigma still remains.

"They are afraid of rejection," said Melvin Harrison, the executive director of theNavajo AIDS Network. Of the 65 patients his group treats, most of them keep their diagnosis a secret from family and friends, Harris said.

"I'm scared to death," said Dr. Jonathan Iralu, an infectious disease physician based in Gallup, New Mexico,told The New York Times. "The numbers show there is a dangerous rise, and the time to act is now, before it's too late."

In an effort to stop the growing trend and foster acceptance of gay sexual relationships, , the tribe's health department, the Navajo AIDS Network and Dr. Iralu's clinic are all leading outreach efforts, running public service campaigns in Navajo, promoting awareness through social media, and distributing condoms.

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