HIV diagnoses down nationwide except for key area
CHAMPAIGN — After more than a quarter-century of fighting HIV, Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde finds it upsetting to see how much the virus is still spreading.
"This is a 100 percent preventable disease," Pryde said in reaction to government research finding the diagnosis rate for new cases of HIV has declined by a third — but also increased for several age groups among men who have sex with men, especially teens and very young men.
"We are seeing the same trend," Pryde said. "We have all types of programs trying to reach out. It's heartbreaking."
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, can lead to AIDS. One out of six people in the U.S. infected with HIV doesn't know it, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises screening as part of routine health care for everyone ages 13 to 64.
In the study published Saturday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, CDC researchers found a nearly 133 percent rise in HIV infections among males ages 13-24 for the period covering 2002-11.
During that time, 493,372 people nationally were diagnosed with HIV, about a 33 percent decrease. That included declines in diagnoses of women, people ages 35-44 and people of multiple races and diagnoses linked to heterosexual contact and injectable drug use.
For men having sex with men, there were also increases for those ages 45 and older.
Mike Benner, executive director of the Greater Community AIDS Project of East Central Illinois, said numbers may be higher for young men who have sex with men because they've been targeted for increased testing recently.
But he's also found younger people can tend to feel invincible or react out of fear, leading them to fail to get tested or follow through on testing results and treatment until they wind up in an emergency room.
"Ignorance is bliss," he said.
Cindy Goetting, an HIV case manager at Carle, said the findings in the CDC study leave a lot of questions for her.
Carle treats HIV patients from multiple counties, and has had 485 HIV patients in the last six months, with 46 patients new to Carle, she said.
"We have increased our numbers at Carle over the last year," she said.
That could be partly because of more patients seeking treatment at Carle and more routine screening being done both in the emergency room and in primary-care offices, Goetting said.
Both proven treatments and behavioral interventions are needed to fight HIV, she said, and it's also important to remain alert to HIV risk for people of all ages and get the word out about prevention and healthy lifestyle.
Pryde said medically accurate sex education is needed for all kids for their own protection, and HIV testing needs to be a routine part of health care to catch and treat infections early.
But HIV services aren't readily available everywhere.
Jenny Trimmell, administrator of the Vermilion County Health Department, said there continues to be limited testing resources in her county, which may account for why there were only two new diagnosed HIV infections there last year.
There haven't been fewer than 10 new annual HIV infections diagnosed in Champaign County for the past several years, Pryde said. To date this year, there have been six new cases, "and we need that to be zero," she said.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District will test not only Champaign County residents but also people living in surrounding counties, Pryde said.
"There are hideous gaps in service," she said. "We're working on some projects to help in our region because we know there are a lot of health departments out there that can't do testing."
If she could deliver one message to young people failing to take precautions, Pryde said it would be this:
"They're worth taking the time and the effort to protect themselves, and there are a lot of places in this community that are there to help them out," she said. "And just as I want to see them wear their seat belts, I want to see them not get a debilitating illness that they can prevent."
While overall HIV numbers are down nationally, the virus remains a concern locally:
485: Infected patients treated at Carle in the last six months.
46: New patients of that group.
6: New cases diagnosed in Champaign County in 2014.