October 5, 2011
New HIV diagnoses among 15- to 24-year-olds in the 13-county Middle Tennessee region have more than doubled in the past five years, the Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) recently reported. The proportion of regional residents who have been diagnosed but remain untreated is 48 percent, compared with 37 percent nationally. Untreated patients are at risk of transmitting HIV as well as progressing more rapidly to AIDS.
"As a community, we've got to work on some of the issues of stigma and about labeling people that keep people from treating it just like they would treat any other medical condition," said Dr. Bill Paul, MPHD's director. "We see too many people with new infections and people avoiding testing and foregoing treatment."
Reasons cited for going without treatment include not being psychologically ready to cope with the diagnosis; not wanting others to find out about it; and lacking transportation or insurance. But cost should not be a barrier, said Pam Sylakowski, MPHD's Ryan White Program director. Individuals can obtain assistance through the program even if they make up to $32,670 singly or have a four-person household income of $67,050.
"If you are positive, go to a provider," Sylakowski said. "If you don't qualify for [assistance], they will work with you to find where care is available."
New infections among teens and 20-somethings increased 26 percent from 2009 to 2010 and 140 percent since five years ago. However, AIDS diagnoses declined from 134 in 2006 to 78 in 2010, probably due to earlier testing.
Dr. Carolyn Wester, medical director for the Tennessee Department of Health's HIV/AIDS program, said it has received federal funding to bring in three employees to coordinate treatment for HIV-positive prisoners upon their release.