08/06/2013 12:47 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Alarm Has (Really) Sounded

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is sounding the alarm even louder. The national public health institute warns that HIV rates -- which remain at epidemic proportions -- are continuing to rise steadily among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Jonathan Mermin, the director of the CDC's division of HIV/AIDS prevention, states, "Gay and bisexual men remain at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic." The CDC reports that while MSM represent only 4 percent of the male population, they accounted for over three quarters of new HIV infections among men and 63 percent of all new infections in 2010 (29,800). And according to U.S. News and World Report, if HIV infections among MSM continue to rise at the current levels, more than half of college-aged gay and bisexual men will have HIV by the age of 50.

The CDC breaks down new infections according to age group, and here are some stats for you: in the youngest MSM subset, age 13 to 24, new infections increased from 7,200 in 2008 to 8,800 in 2010, a 22-percent jump. And young black MSM continue to have the highest infection rate, accounting for 55 percent of new infections among young MSM.

According to the CDC, African Americans, more than any other racial/ethnic group, continue to bear the greatest burden of HIV in the U.S:

While blacks represent approximately 14 percent of the total U.S. population, they accounted for almost half (44 percent) of all new HIV infections in 2010 (20,900). HIV incidence among blacks was almost eight times higher than that of whites (68.9 v. 8.7 per 100,000 of the population).

However, the total number of infections is highest among whites.

The CDC lists various factors responsible for the escalating HIV/AIDS epidemic in the gay community, which include:

higher prevalence of HIV among MSM, which leads to a greater risk of HIV exposure with each sexual encounter; the high proportion of young MSM (especially young MSM of color) who are unaware of their infection, which increases the risk of unknowingly transmitting the virus to others; stigma and homophobia, which deter some from seeking HIV prevention services; barriers, such as lack of insurance and concerns about confidentiality, that result in less access to testing, care, and antiretroviral treatment; and high rates of some STDs, which can facilitate HIV transmission. Additionally, many young MSM may underestimate their personal risk for HIV.

There needs to be a clarion call regarding the epidemic. We must maintain a laser-beam focus. I must say that although I'm a staunch supporter of marriage equality, I do become concerned from time to time that it overshadows this deadly-serious health issue. We simply can't let that be the case, because we all have the wherewithal to tackle a myriad of issues and concerns affecting our community. HIV/AIDS is much too critical for us to allow it to slip off our agendas or out of our collective consciousness for even a second.