St. Lucie Blacks' HIV/AIDS Rate Tops in Florida

According to unpublished Florida Department of Health figures for 2005, proportionally more African Americans had HIV in St. Lucie County than in any other Florida county. That year, there were about 29 infections per 1,000 black residents in St. Lucie County, compared with 24 infections per 1,000 black Palm Beach County residents and 23 infections per 1,000 black Miami-Dade County residents. These HIV/AIDS rates are FDH's baseline data for infection rates among races in Florida counties.

In all, 1,024 black St. Lucie County residents have HIV/AIDS. In more populous Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, 4,619 and about 11,000 black residents, respectively, have HIV/AIDS. The state's HIV/AIDS ranking for whites and Hispanics in St. Lucie County is 15th and 16th, respectively, said Spencer Lieb, a top FDH epidemiologist.

The new per-capita figures reveal HIV's "disproportionate impact on the black community," said Lieb. However, St. Lucie County's 2004 rates "would probably be on the same order," he said.

St. Lucie County's epidemic is marked by late diagnoses, limited treatment access, homophobia, sexual risk-taking, and needle sharing, said Lieb.

"Prevention efforts are tough because you've got people who are leading a somewhat marginalized existence," said Dr. Gerald Pierone of the AIDS Treatment and Health Center in Fort Pierce. "You've got a lot of things you would see in a big city but instead of in a big city, it's in a rural setting."

The county Health Department has not received FDH's figures but anticipates strategy meetings with community leaders, said Arlease Hall, its spokesperson. "We hope the plan is the community's plan," she said. The local NAACP is working with Fort Pierce churches to increase AIDS awareness and will send AIDS information pamphlets with youth employment program paychecks.