Highlands County reported 31 HIV cases from 2009-11. That’s 10.5 per 100,000. If there’s good news in that report, it’s that the Florida rate is 27.7.
“Those are newly reported cases,” said Barbara Moore, an RN with Highlands County Health Department. “We did an outreach at the college where we tested, I think, 2,750 people, and we found no one positive, so we think that’s pretty accurate.”
Like cancer in previous generations, HIV/AIDS is the disease that’s little discussed. In 2003, 20 cases were reported in Highlands, 14 in 2004, 17 in 2006, 25 in 2008 – 129 cases over the past nine years.
“That’s one of reasons we did that outreach,” Moore said. Even though Highlands numbers are low, she said, “The disease is still there. Florida rates are still high. Treatments have improved, and we don’t hear about it as much, but it’s still devastating and causes a lot of disabilities.”
By comparison, Hardee found only 46 HIV cases over the past nine years, 53 in Okeechobee, and 83 in DeSoto. Polk reported 1,196. If that sounds high, Hillsborough counted 3,343 from 2003-2012, Orange 4,579, and Pinellas 4,581.
Almost one-third of HIV cases come from Miami-Dade: 18,246 cases were reported in the past nine years; the entire state counted 59,669 during the same period.
Why do urban areas report such high rates? “When people emigrate from foreign countries, they’re not tested when they come here,” Moore said. “We can only test people who agree to be tested. Also, we have more outreach centers in metropolitan areas.”
HIV/AIDS cases keep rising in South Florida, which has had the nation's worst outbreak in 2011 despite stepped-up efforts to control the spread of the virus, the SunSentinel reported. New HIV infections rose by 25 percent in Broward County, 30 percent in Palm Beach County and 21 percent statewide, while new cases of AIDS rose by 6 percent to 8 percent in those areas, according to the Florida Department of Health.
HIV/AIDS disproportionally affects blacks. The good news, at least for Caucasians, is that only 3.3 percent of those who contract AIDS/HIV die of the still-incurable disease. For blacks, the death rate is 16.9 percent, according to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.
Some of the big increases were artificially inflated, health officials told the SunSentinel, because of a revised counting method started in 2011 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even so, officials said the epidemic in South Florida clearly is not in check.
"I think it's leveling off, and hopefully it's going down in some of the heavily impacted groups like African-Americans and Hispanics," said Dr. Mitchell Durant, HIV/AIDS program supervisor at the Palm Beach County Health Department.
About half of the new cases came among gay and bisexual men, a community where the virus has been on the increase in recent years.
Only 19.7 percent of Highlands adults had been tested in 2002 for HIV/AIDS in the previous 12 months, compared with 19.4 percent in 2007 and .05 percent in 2010. Around Florida, the corresponding percentages are 22.5, 21.0 and 7.0.
Just 45.2 percent of Highlands adults under age 65 have ever been tested for HIV; the Florida number is 48.4.
By contrast, an average 60 gonorrhea cases are reported annually in Highlands, 107.6 in Florida. Chlamydia is now the most frequent sexually transmitted disease: 310 per year in Highlands, 396 in the rest of Florida.
One reason, Moore said, is that people who have Chlamydia may never show symptoms, whereas discharges may result from syphilis and gonorrhea, and women may have pelvic itching.
Because men who can still perform sexually are in high demand among senior women, the Florida Department of Health has encouraged sons and daughters to talk to their older parents about sex. In 2009, nearly 20 percent of all new HIV and 25 percent of all AIDS diagnoses in Florida were in those older than 50. More than half of the cases were among those who live in South Florida, according to the Broward County Health Department.
Get tested, Moore advised. “You can’t look at someone and know if you have sex with them, you’ll get an STD.”
If people have HIV, getting tested is one way to keep it from developing into full-blown AIDS.