County official says rising infection rate due in part to better education leading more people to get tested
Dallas County’s Department of Health and Human Services recorded increases in new HIV infections and almost all categories of sexually transmitted diseases in 2007.
Newly recorded HIV infections rose by 24 percent from a total of 726 in 2006 to 902 in 2007, according to the county’s HIV surveillance report released on Jan. 24.
The new HIV infections in 2007 involved 718 men, of which 81 percent acknowledged having had sex with other men, and 184 women.
The number of HIV infections attributed to men having sex with men increased by 23 percent from 472 in 2006 to 581 in 2007. The number of HIV infections in 2007 represented 399 blacks, 331 whites, 148 Hispanics, eight Asians, two native Hawaiians and 14 others.
A separate surveillance report on full-blown AIDS cases showed an 11 percent increase, from 373 cases in 2006 to 415 in 2007.
The number of syphilis cases rose by 6 percent from 1,140 in 2006 to 1,204 in 2007, the number of gonorrhea cases rose by 30 percent from 4,614 to 6,004 and the number of Chlamydia cases rose by 53 percent from 8,166 to 12,456.
LaShonda Worthey, program director for the county’s sexually transmitted diseases surveillance unit, said she attributes the statistical increases in new infections to improved education efforts and larger numbers of people being tested.
“More people are becoming educated and getting tested,” Worthey said. “At this stage in the world of HIV and AIDS, there are therapies and medications to live longer. That fear we once had is disappearing.”
In contrast, HIV service workers have warned that they fear people and especially younger people have become complacent about the danger of contracting infections, and that there could be catastrophic surge in new infections.
A survey of Dallas County’s surveillance reports from 1999 through 2007 showed large variances in the different categories over the nine-year period, making it difficult to find statistical evidence from Dallas County records to support either Worthey’s or HIV service workers’ assessments.
Fernie Sanchez, intake supervisor for AIDS Arms, said he agrees that outreach and testing have improved, but that he also thinks infections are on the rise.
“More people are being infected as the number of people living with HIV longer increases,” Sanchez said. “These people are still sexually active. I think there are more cases than we know. A lot of people still don’t know their status.”
Worthey also attributed a decrease in primary and secondary syphilis cases to outreach and testing. The number of primary and secondary syphilis cases, for which treatment is effective in eliminating the disease before it causes serious illness, decreased by 25 percent from 206 cases in 2006 to 155 in 2007.
“When you are out there and doing the free screening, you find more disease,” Worthey said. “When you find more disease, then you are able to treat their partners and prevent disease from happening.”
Dallas County’s surveillance reports on new HIV infections include breakdowns by ages, but males and females are lumped together statistically. New infections for ages 13-19 decreased by 16 percent from 49 in 2006 to 41 in 2007; infections in ages 20-29 increased by 43 percent from 202 to 288; infections in ages 30-39 increased by 11 percent from 240 to 266; infections in ages 40-49 increased by 18 percent from 169 to 200; and infections in ages 49-over increased 62 percent from 66 to 107.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 8, 2008