April 2, 2003
Florida Department of Health statistics show that Indian River County, with an 11 percent jump in reported AIDS cases, had the highest percent increase in 2002 on the Treasure Coast -- 284 cases, up from 256. Martin County saw a 9 percent increase, from 302 cases to 330. Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties saw increases of 6 percent and 7 percent, respectively, though St. Lucie County had the most AIDS cases of the four counties -- 1,480 compared to 90 in Okeechobee County.
"We expect these numbers to increase because we are encouraging people to report their status," said Lorene Maddox, FDH data analysis manager. "The whole idea is to increase the number of people who actually know their status." Nancy Heinrich of the Indian River County Health Department said, "HIV infection looks at a more current snapshot of what's happening. When we report a case of AIDS, that's like looking at a 10-year-old photograph of something." Indian River County reported 15 new HIV cases, the average number for the previous three years.
Looking at statistics on a county level may diminish the figures' significance, said Shawn Dougherty of Project Response, which assists Treasure Coast residents living with HIV/AIDS. "It's just not valid to look at that small of an area" and draw conclusions on infection trends, he said. "There's been no real improvement" in preventing new cases. With intravenous drug use accounting for less than 15 percent of new infections, DPH Surveillance Coordinator Linda Gordon said, "People either aren't in monogamous relationships... or they're not using condoms."