April 16, 2009
While the number of annual HIV/AIDS diagnoses in Sonoma County has fallen since the 1980s, county Department of Public Health (DPH) officials are worried by the growing number of new cases among women over age 45 and Latinos. "We have seen a shift within certain groups in our community," said Dr. Mary Maddux-González, the county public health officer.
For several years in the late 1980s, Sonoma County had the third-highest prevalence of AIDS in the state, but now the county ranks seventh in AIDS prevalence. Males account for 90 percent of county HIV/AIDS cases. However, the proportion of women over 45 among new cases has been rising, from 8 percent during 1998-2000 to 29 percent in 2001, and women now represent 47 percent of new cases. Among women, three-fourths contracted the virus heterosexually, according to a new DPH report.
"We don't have a precise reason for why, but we believe that when women don't perceive their partner as being at risk, they don't see the need to take precautions," Maddux-González said.
As the proportion of Latinos has grown to 22 percent of the county's population, new Latino HIV/AIDS cases have risen to 20 percent of county cases. Since 2001 there have been 10 new Latino HIV/AIDS cases on average each year, mostly among men who have sex with men.
The report also discussed the issue of people having HIV without knowing it, being diagnosed late and "coming late to care." "I was diagnosed in 1996 and it came as a complete shock to me," said Lisa Albertson, head of the county's AIDS commission. "People should know sooner than later because it is no longer a death sentence."
To help link those infected to care earlier, one of DPH's goals is to make HIV screening available in all emergency departments, urgent care clinics, community clinics and primary care medical offices.