County sees most new cases since 2005; ‘men who have sex with men’ account for 70 percent of diagnoses
Dallas County’s rate of new HIV infections hit a five-year high in 2010, according to a newly released surveillance report from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Dallas County also recorded its highest total number of new HIV cases since 2005, the statistics show, and had the highest HIV infection rate of any urban county in Texas.
The category known as “men who have sex with men” accounted for 70 percent of all new cases in Dallas County in 2010.
“We can’t claim any victories right now,” Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson told Dallas Voice this week. “These numbers are showing there must be a comprehensive prevention effort.”
According to the statistics, 908 new infections were reported in 2010. The number of new cases was the highest in five years and translates into an infection rate of 37.3 per 100,000 population, also the highest since 2005.
Although more total new HIV cases were reported in the Houston area, Harris County’s larger population translated into an infection rate of 30.1. Travis County, which includes Austin, had a 19.8 rate; El Paso County had a 15.1 rate; and Tarrant County had a 12.4 rate.
Resource Center Dallas Health Services Director Bret Camp said multiple factors may be contributing to Dallas having the highest rate.
“One reason may be we have some very good testing initiatives here,” Camp said.
The number of people living with HIV in Dallas County climbed to 13,883 in 2010. In 2002, fewer than 9,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in Dallas County.
In 2010, 635 of Dallas County’s new HIV cases were among MSM. The category includes gay men as well as men who probably contracted the virus through sexual contact with other men but do not necessarily identify as gay.
“We are constantly striving to identify men who have sex with men who don’t identify as gay and are at risk,” Camp said.
Heterosexual transmission accounted for 216 cases. Intravenous drug use and one perinatal case make up the rest of the Dallas County new diagnoses.
By race, blacks had the most new diagnoses and make up the largest group of people living with HIV. Of the 908 new cases, 452 were among African-Americans, who have an infection rate of 91.5 per 100,000 population.
“Numbers are increasing among black MSMs,” Thompson said. “There and among African-American women.”
Whites were the second-largest group with 219 new cases and second-highest infection rate at 28.5 per 100,000.
Hispanics were third with 217 new diagnoses, with a rate of 21.1 cases per 100,000. An “other” category accounted for 20 of the new HIV cases.
Doran Senat with United Black Ellument, a program of Resource Center Dallas, said his group spreads the safer-sex message in the African-American community but has a lot of ideas to reach more people in his community.
“We’re figuring out more ways to do things with churches,” Senat said. “We have to address church-based bias.”
To encourage testing, the group hands out vouchers for items at grocery stores or condom dog tags.
“We need more permanent testing locations in empty buildings,” found throughout African-American neighborhoods, Senat said. If those testing sites also provided free computer access and meeting rooms, he said they’d be used by the community. He also suggested more mobile clinics.
People ages 25 to 34 made up the largest group of new infections with 270 of the new diagnoses, but the biggest category increase was among those 13 to 24 years old.
He said he believes school districts need to look beyond abstinence-only education to something that works.
Although the number of new cases is up from the previous year, it’s still down from a peak in 2002, when about 1,300 new cases were reported.
Statewide, the number of new cases of HIV reported increased by 12, but the infection rate per 100,000 actually decreased since 2009 because of population increase.
Since 2003, the number of new cases in Texas has also declined.
Daniel Palma does HIV testing at the Nelson Tebedo Clinic. He said rapid testing returns results in 20 minutes but only detects the virus three months after exposure. The Nuclear Acid Amplification Test done with a blood draw is accurate as early as 10 days after contact with the virus.
The clinic only tests people older than 18, so Palma said he isn’t seeing the increase in cases among younger people. Those under the age of 18 are tested only by the county.
“The majority we see are MSMs,” Palma said. “But we’re also seeing an increase in the number of straight males and females.”
Thompson said: “We need to regroup and look at how prevention is done in Dallas County.”
Statistics for 2011 won’t be released until March 2013.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 13, 2012.