HIV infection diagnoses high in the South

Jeremy Thomas

The American South is home to warm summer temperatures, magnolia trees and even the Dallas Cowboys, but it is also home to a high diagnosis rate for the human immunodeficiency virus infection.

The most recent HIV Surveillance Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed a higher rate of HIV infection diagnoses in the South. In 2011, the Carolinas, Georgia and states bordering the Gulf of Mexico possessed a rate of 20 to 177.9 per 100,000 persons diagnosed with HIV infection. Other states such as California, Illinois and New York possessed a similar rate. The report deals with 2011 statistics. A new report releases every summer for the previous year’s data.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services HIV/STD Program, 70,000 people in the state have HIV — 34 percent more than seven years ago. An estimated 17,000 Texans do not know they are HIV positive. Along with the CDC’s report, the State’s statistics are from 2011.

DSHS spokesman Greg Beets said stigma and fear pose real challenges for prevention efforts surrounding STIs and HIV.

“Particularly with HIV, the stigmatization of HIV positive people can have the effort of discouraging people who may have put themselves at risk from going out and seeking testing or care for HIV because they don’t want to be a person with HIV,” Beets said. “That makes it hard from the prevention perspective to make the case, so to speak, for getting tested and seeking treatment.”

DSHS statistics reveal more than 65 percent of new HIV cases result from sex between men, 24 percent from sex between men and women and 7 percent from illegal drug use.

Beets said there are a number of factors that are occurring at all levels of society that have an impact on both creating and driving health disparities.

“In some cases, it may have to do with poverty, employment problems, educational attainment levels, incarceration, so socioeconomic types of issues, stigma, fear of males, racism and homophobia may also play a role in it,” Beets said. “As far as when you are talking about an increased amount of HIV prevalence within a sexual network, it almost becomes sort of a self-perpetuating cycle because if you have a higher prevalence of HIV within a relatively closed sexual network, if a new person comes into that sexual network — even if they’re risk behaviors in terms of frequency aren’t necessarily high — they still stand a much better chance of becoming infected.”

According to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, if STIs go untreated it can increase the risk of acquiring another STI, such as HIV. Gulielma Fager, University Health Services health education coordinator, said many STIs, show no symptoms, so annual STI testing is recommended for people who are sexually active. 

Fager said UHS diagnoses approximately 200 cases of chlamydia and herpes each year. She said UHS diagnoses usually zero or one case of HIV or syphilis a year.

Fager said UHS clinics test around 3,000 students per year for chlamydia and gonorrhea and about 1,300 for HIV. Test results are usually available in two to four workdays.

Ria Chakrabarty, Plan I Honors International Relations & Global Studies senior and Public Relations Coordinator of FACE AIDS Austin, said it is extremely important to be tested for STIs because people need to know their status.

“The sooner you know if you have an STI, the easier it is to treat it,” Charkrabarty said. “Even if you know you don’t have one, it’s good practice. It also helps break the stigma surrounding testing and helps encourage your partner to get tested. The more people who know their status, the easier it is to stop the spread of the disease.”