Lubbock health officials became alarmed about local HIV transmissions when they saw an increase in syphilis cases last year. Already this year, Lubbock County has recorded 31 new HIV diagnoses, up from 10 each in 2008 and 2007. More than 30 syphilis cases have been diagnosed in the first nine months of 2009.
"Syphilis increases open wounds, which leads to a higher risk of contracting HIV," said Jamie Parker, the STD section chief for the county Health Department. A decline in education and testing programs is not helping the problem, she said. The state-funded South Plains AIDS Resource Center (SPARC) closed in 2008, and two City of Lubbock-funded health educators were laid off in August.
"I think [the numbers] reflect the lack of funding for preventive health care in the community," Parker said. "Knowledge is the number-one key to behavior modification."
"We used to focus on Lubbock, but when SPARC closed we picked up the rural areas," said Freddie Harris, one of two HIV counselors for the 41-county area served by Lubbock's Regional Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center. "That's a big area for two people to cover."
New HIV cases were about evenly divided between heterosexuals and homosexuals, and people ages 18-28 were most at risk, said Ricky Vaughn, medical case manager for Lubbock's Project CHAMPS STD program.
From about four HIV cases per 100,000 population last year, Lubbock County already has a rate of 12 cases per 100,000 to date this year. The state's HIV rate in 2008 was about 14 cases per 100,000.