Overall number of infections up slightly in Dallas County in 2008; other STDs see larger increases
For the first time ever, African-Americans accounted for more than half of new HIV/AIDS cases in Dallas County in 2008, according to previously unreleased statistics obtained by Dallas Voice this week.
The statistics show that the total number of new HIV/AIDS cases countywide remained relatively steady, going from 953 in 2007 to 961 in 2008.
However, the county saw significant increases in other sexually transmitted diseases last year, including a 44 percent spike in the number of new syphilis cases.
Blacks, who make up only about 20 percent of the county’s overall population, accounted for 482 of the 961 new HIV/AIDS cases in the county in 2008, or just over 50 percent, according to the data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. In 2007, blacks accounted for 46 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in Dallas County.
"Every year we say people should be alarmed by the numbers in the African-American community," said Raeline Nobles, executive director of AIDS Arms Inc., a service provider based in South Dallas. "They keep growing and the trend keeps increasing and now they’ve reached over 50 percent for the first time. This definitely is a major wakeup call for the black community in Dallas and across Texas and frankly across the United States. There is a crisis of HIV in the black community."
Bret Camp, associate executive director at the Resource Center of Dallas, an Oak Lawn-based HIV/AIDS service provider, agreed that the 50 percent figure represents "a significant milestone" — albeit an unsavory one.
"For many years, HIV was considered a gay white man’s disease," Camp said. "This shows that that’s no longer the only case. I think it shows we need to increase our education in the communities of color."
Dr. John Carlo, medical director for Dallas County Health and Human Services, said although the 50 percent figure is likely to grab headlines, it isn’t as meaningful to him as the long-term trend, which shows that blacks in Dallas County are almost three times as likely as whites to contract HIV/AIDS.
"It’s a disturbing trend," Carlo said. "It’s one that’s seen nationwide particularly in urban areas and particularly in the South, and Dallas is fitting into both of those categories. This is a really big concern."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the No. 1 mode of transmission for HIV/AIDS among blacks, as with other races, is male-to-male sexual contact.
A breakdown of transmission modes according to race for Dallas County in 2008 wasn’t available this week, but the statistics show that overall, 534 of the 961 new HIV/AIDS cases last year occurred in the category known as "men who have sex with men."
Nobles and Camp both cited social stigmas related to HIV/AIDS and human sexuality as one of the key factors contributing to the spread of the virus in the black community.
"We still run into significant stigmas and significant barriers to having effective dialogue about HIV prevention and what it’s going to take to stop this disease," Nobles said. "The primary barrier is a lack of willingness to talk about sex, which is a primary carrier of HIV."
Nobles also noted that HIV/AIDS has increased dramatically in recent years among black women, many of whom contract the disease from men who have gay sex on "the down low." In 2007, for example, 81 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases were in males, but 32 percent of new cases among blacks were in females.
"They have a gay lifestyle but in the public they have a wife or a girlfriend, and so the disease is crossing over rather rapidly in this particular population," Nobles said.
"They’re really forced into this secretive kind of underground life that is not helpful to them or to anybody that they interact with, and certainly as a health issue not to those who they sexually interact with or share needles with."
Nobles and Camp also said they’re concerned about increases in syphilis and chlamydia in Dallas County last year.
The number of new syphilis cases went from 149 in 2007 to 214 in 2008, the statistics show, an increase of 44 percent. The number of new chlamydia cases in Dallas County went from 11,922 in 2007 to 13,495 in 2008, an increase of 13 percent.
Camp said prior to 2008, Dallas County already had one of the highest syphilis rates in the country.
Nobles said increases in other STDs mean people are engaging in risky behavior, which can lead to future spikes in HIV. The STDs themselves also weaken people’s immune systems, making them more susceptible to contracting the virus.
AIDS rally Saturday
The Campaign To End AIDS-Dallas will host a rally from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21 at the Martin Luther King Center, 2922 Martin Luther King Blvd. The rally will demand a comprehensive citywide plan to address the needs of people with HIV/AIDS. For information, call Herbert Hodge at 972-513-7435 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 20, 2009.