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Cases are increasing

HIV, AIDS

May 04, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The number of HIV and AIDS cases in Washington County has more than doubled since 1997, with most of the people infected being white males ages of 30 to 39, according to state health statistics.

Washington County ranks eighth out of 24 jurisdictions in the state and leads Western Maryland in the number of HIV and AIDS cases.

Washington County has the 10th largest population in the state, with 134,246 people, according to the 2000 Census.

In 2001, the county reported 199 people had tested positive for HIV or had developed AIDS, up from 76 cases in 1997.

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Of those 199 people, 117 were HIV positive and 82 were diagnosed with AIDS, according to the Maryland AIDS Administration, a division of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Current numbers are not yet available.

The statistics do not include inmates with HIV or AIDS at the state prison just outside of Hagerstown or at the Washington County Detention Center.

Trailing Washington County in the number of cases in Western Maryland are Frederick, Allegany and Garrett counties.

Maryland had more than 24,000 HIV and AIDS cases in 2001, according to the AIDS Administration.

AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is caused by the HIV virus. People can be infected with HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, for several years before getting sick and developing AIDS, according to AIDS.org.

HIV may be transmitted through most bodily fluids. The most common ways of becoming infected are through unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing a needle with an HIV-positive person or through birth.

Jenny Taylor-Gray, the Washington County Health Department's HIV program supervisor, said Friday that the county's number of HIV and AIDS cases are likely to be higher than the statistics indicate, because a number of cases go unreported.

She said some people might also unknowingly be living with the illnesses.

"A lot of people say, 'I don't know anyone with HIV or AIDS.' I say, 'Yes, you do. You're just not aware of who they are,'" Taylor-Gray said.

According to the Washington County Department of Social Services, 158 males and 41 females make up the county's 199 HIV and AIDS cases. The Department of Social Services also said:

  • 69 percent of those cases are white.

  • 29 percent are African-Americans.

  • 29 percent are homosexual males.

  • 17 percent are heterosexuals.

  • 14 percent are intravenous drug users.

  • 43 percent are age 30 to 39.

  • 38 percent are age 40 to 49.

  • 9 percent are age 50 to 59.

  • 6 percent are age 20 to 29.


Taylor-Gray said that while the statistics show certain races or age groups have higher HIV and AIDS cases than other groups, all those who aren't cautious about their behavior are at risk of contracting HIV and eventually developing AIDS.

"HIV knows no barriers. There's no stereotype for the individual," she said. "If you're having unprotected sex, you're at risk."

County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he was surprised to hear that HIV and AIDS was a problem among heterosexuals locally and that Washington County had more cases than some counties with larger populations, such as Frederick and Carroll counties.

"I was amazed at the heterosexual infections," Wivell said. "My belief was that it was only among the homosexuals and drug users, and that's certainly not the case."

Taylor-Gray said people are living longer with HIV and AIDS than they were 20 years ago, because of early detection and the number of health care services available. But that trend also comes with a negative side.

"People are getting complacent about it," which, in part, has led to an increase in the number of cases.

Taylor-Gray said people do not see themselves or their partners as being at risk of HIV or AIDS, making it a challenge for health officials to get the message across that they are.

"We had hoped that 20 years into this that we'd be making some progress with that," she said.

Taylor-Gray said the health department encourages people to get tested for HIV every year and that tests are free and confidential.

Wivell said he thinks officials can do a better job of stressing HIV and AIDS awareness.

"Education is the key, I think," Wivell said. "I don't think we've probably done a real good job in getting the word out."

"I just wish it wouldn't be happening," Commissioner John C. Munson said. "Maybe it needs to be emphasized more in sex education classes. Maybe it needs to be emphasized more by the parents, too."

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