Iowa HIV numbers rising


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With a 42.9 percent increase in the number of newly confirmed cases of HIV in Iowa in the first half of 2009, state officials are concerned about what they’ll find in the second half.

Iowa doctors saw 70 new cases of HIV, up from 49 in the first six months of 2008, while numbers at the UI have stayed constant over the years, officials said.

Public-health officials will begin looking for possible causes for the increased numbers when the year’s total is available in March.

Though some speculate increased testing numbers may have led to the increase in positive results, Randy Mayer, the chief of the Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said he believes this might not be the case.

“In 2008, we had an increase in the number of tests but no increase in the number of positives,” he said. “I don’t think we can definitely attribute this to increased testing.”

UI Student Health Service officials said they’ve seen fewer than five positive HIV tests in the last three years, and they estimate that 500 to 700 HIV tests are administrated each year, said Student Health medical director Ann Laros.

The HIV program at the UI Hospitals and Clinics offers treatment through specialized care, clinical trials, education, social services, financial programs, and referrals.

This month, the Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis announced almost $700,000 in funding for HIV and hepatitis prevention services for Iowa. Agencies will use counseling, testing and referral services at no cost for people at risk for HIV and viral hepatitis.

One such program will be implemented in Iowa City through MECCA, a drug-treatment facility. The program — CLEAR: Choosing Life: Empowerment, Action, Results — will offer one-on-one services for HIV-positive people and those at risk for acquiring HIV.

This year’s funds will also be directed to programs specifically for African-American and Latino populations, two minorities disproportionately affected by HIV and hepatitis, Mayer said.

MECCA will also offer SISTA: Sisters Informing Sisters on Topics of AIDS, a program working to prevent HIV infection among African-American women.

One of the new program’s goals is to increase early testing. That’s because nearly half of all diagnoses of HIV in Iowa are late diagnoses — people who come in to get tested for HIV and already have AIDS, according to estimates from the Public Health Department.

Jerald Harms, the surveillance coordinator of the Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis, said 44 percent of the reported cases in the first half of 2009 had AIDS at the time of diagnosis.

As of June 30, 128 of the 1,667 Iowa residents thought to be living with HIV or AIDS were in Johnson County, according to the state department of Public Health.

“We are seeing trends very similar to those across the state,” said Tricia Kitzmann, a deputy director of Johnson County Public Health.

While state officials from Minnesota and Wisconsin have also seen increased HIV diagnoses this year, Chicago officials saw a decrease, Mayer said. This may be because of higher levels of funding and new prevention programs similar to what Iowa officials are trying, he said.

Harms noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates show that 21 percent of people with HIV don’t know they’re infected.

“Get tested,” Harms said.

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