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Study: AIDS High In Hispanics

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Hispanics comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 20 percent of those living with AIDS, according to a study based on data from local and state health departments.

Less frequent testing among Latinos might be partly to blame for the higher numbers, as some people develop AIDS before they discover they have virus that causes it, said Alberto Santana, a spokesman for the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, which released the study Thursday.

"What we have addressed here is that Latinos do not test," Santana said. "You have people who walk into an emergency room with symptoms and that is how they learn they have HIV."

The study, released in Washington, is designed as a blueprint for health-care providers across the country to better deliver AIDS prevention messages and care to Hispanics, who are sometimes viewed as a monolithic community because many share Spanish as a common language.

"You have to tailor it to the cultural characteristics and the idiosyncrasies of that particular community, be it Mexicans, Puerto Ricans or Dominicans," Santana said.

An example: The Spanish word "vato" means homeboy to a Mexican audience. But used in a radio or television ad, it could be confused with "pato," or duck, which is slang for homosexual among Puerto Ricans and Dominicans.

Transmission rates are highest among men, who comprise 80 percent of Hispanic AIDS cases.

Those who have sex with other men and those who inject drugs are at highest risk, mirroring the population at large, the study notes.

AIDS cases among Hispanic women are also on the rise, representing a growing share of new cases, according to the study.

Poverty, a lack of health insurance and the stigma of AIDS all contribute to both the high transmission rate of HIV and the failure to detect infection before it develops into AIDS, Santana said.

Another lesser known factor appears to be unprotected sex during repeated migration between the United States and the immigrants' native countries.

"What we are saying is that it has to do with the back and forth border movement," Santana said.

Among the study's recommendations is a call to health-care officials to provide AIDS treatment and HIV testing to Hispanics living in the United States — regardless of their immigration status.

"It's a human right," Santana said. "Second of all, we have people who are sick and infectious. What they can do is create a public health disaster."