April 8, 2010
Onondaga County has recorded nine new HIV diagnoses among men under age 25 in the past four months, an upsurge that worries health officials. The county typically reports about nine cases a year among males in this age group. All nine cases were men who have sex with men (MSM), said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, the county's health commissioner. Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately represented among the cases; no increase has been detected among older people.
County and state health officials are investigating, but so far they have not found an association linking the infected men, Morrow said. The Onondaga County Health Department has alerted local health care providers about the increase; it also is working with local HIV/AIDS care and prevention service organizations.
"It's critically important that this vulnerable group receive the support services they need and there isn't any judgment passed," Morrow said. "The worst thing we as a society can do is stigmatize people further, which may lead to decreased testing and treatment."
"You're talking 17-year-olds who are coming down with this horrible disease," said Wil Murtaugh, deputy director of Syracuse-based AIDS Community Resources (ACR). One of the groups tapped by Onondaga County as part of its response, ACR provides prevention education and support services in a nine-county area. It reaches young audiences through programs in schools, youth centers, churches, and other venues.
"It's really a shame. We will do all we can to reach more people and try to put a stop to it," Murtaugh said.