August 3, 2009
In the four-county Central Florida region, almost 800 new HIV cases were recorded in 2008, says a new report by the Health Council of East Central Florida.
While African Americans account for only 15 percent of the population of Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties, they represent 39 percent of residents living with HIV/AIDS. Last year, 69 percent of all newly infected people in the counties were black or Hispanic.
"It's always a concern to me and people in this field that [minorities] are disproportionately affected by this disease," said Debbie Tucci, HIV/AIDS program coordinator for the Orange County Health Department. "It's not because they're African American. The disease doesn't care what your race or ethnicity is. Now we target minorities more, and what's happened is that they're getting tested more."
Despite the increase, Tucci said, "Prevention strategies are absolutely working. There's always room for improvement, but we've come a long way -- especially among minorities."
Responding to the news that 132 of the new HIV cases were among people ages 13 to 24, Tucci said it is "frustrating that young people don't think about using protection because they don't plan to have sex."
"One of my biggest concerns is complacency," Tucci said. "HIV/AIDS is not in the forefront the way it used to be. We've been talking about this for a long time, and people just don't think it's going to happen to them. It really only takes one time."
"I've been doing this since 1987, and it's been so long I would have never thought that we would still be doing this in 2009, but that's the way of this disease," Tucci said.