An Epicenter of HIV Infection

The U.S. South has become an epicenter of HIV infection, according to Dr. John Bartlett of Duke University. He says the South accounted for 46 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses in the U.S. in 2005. Other regions saw a 6 percent decrease in AIDS cases.

How does Florida fare in all this? Well, the Sunshine State has the second highest number of AIDS diagnoses in the country.

The reasons for high HIV and AIDS rates are numerous – and complicated. One CDC study looked at 20 counties with the largest increases in AIDS cases. The characteristics common in these communities were single-mother households, low educational attainment and poverty.

In addition, African-Americans are disproportionately affected by the epidemic. Not only do they deal with higher rates of HIV infection compared to other racial groups, but they are also more likely to spend time in prison, where HIV and AIDS rates are often higher than the general population. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, black males are incarcerated 6.5 times more than white males.

Dr. Bartlett presented this data today at Orlando Regional Medical Center. In a study at Duke University, his colleagues found that people were more likely to take their HIV medication if they hadn’t experienced any traumatic events in their lives. To these researchers, “trauma” included childhood abuse and neglect, being sent to reform school or prison, death of a spouse and witnessing violence. The people who took their HIV pills every day were more likely to lead longer and healthier lives. For those who didn’t, they risked becoming resistant to HIV medications and developing full-blown AIDS.

“HIV infection is less about infectious diseases and more about healing,” Bartlett said. He proposes to address HIV disparities in the South by increasing awareness of HIV among African-American communities, better treating mental illness and substance abuse, lowering barriers to expert HIV care and better understanding trauma. []