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Infected Immigrants Raise Iowa's HIV Rate

May 27, 2003

A jump in the number of immigrants in Iowa being diagnosed with HIV drove up the state's infection rate by 7 percent last year, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Twenty-eight Iowans who were born in other countries were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2002, compared with 17 the year before. Over the same period, the state saw a decrease in the number of U.S.-born residents being diagnosed. Seventy-five U.S.-born Iowans were diagnosed with HIV last year, while 79 were diagnosed the year before.

Men from Central America, South America or the Caribbean made up the largest group of new HIV cases among immigrants in 2002, followed by women from Africa. The 65 percent increase in HIV infections diagnosed among foreign-born residents prompted state and local officials to refocus efforts on educating that group of Iowans in particular.

The immigrants represented in the statistics either were not officially diagnosed before leaving their native countries or did not become infected until after they arrived. "We might need to come up with new interventions for early testing so they find out their status earlier so they aren't inadvertently passing their HIV on to others," said Randy Mayer, HIV/AIDS surveillance coordinator for the state public health department. "A lot of the immigrants, it seems, are not aware of their status and are surprised to find out."

Most people entering the United States on temporary visas, such as student or tourist visas, are not required to undergo a medical examination that would reveal infections such as HIV, said Jerry Heinauer, interim director for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services district in Omaha. Those who are known to have been diagnosed in their home country with a contagious, communicable disease can be refused entrance for that reason, he said.

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Excerpted from:
Des Moines Register
05.16.03; Colleen Krantz

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