May 22, 2012
Health officials are seeing a rise in HIV cases in Jefferson County linked to risky sex and the many online and mobile phone applications that facilitate it. The county's HIV/AIDS population grew by 16 percent from Dec. 31, 2007, and March 31 this year to 5,122 individuals, state Department of Public Health data show.
"At least 90 percent of the cases we interview, when we ask who were their contacts ... they say, 'Well, I went on the Internet,' 'I went to a chat room' or 'I had an app that was on my phone,'" said Lee Eakins, county disease investigation supervisor. The health department has responded by creating a social networking database targeting apps linked to risky sex.
More testing is critical to preventing more infections, since 60 percent of new cases are linked to people who do not realize they are HIV-positive, said Michael Saag, director of the Center for AIDS Research and the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
"The rate of new infections ... is roughly the same today as it was 20 years ago," Saag said. "So we need every way we can to stop transmission." With treatment, the risk of people transmitting HIV is cut significantly, "not 100 percent, but it's darn close," he said.