HIV infection surges among African-American women and the elderly

Published: Sep. 16, 2014 at 5:01 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2014 at 3:41 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Louisville AIDS Walk is this coming Sunday. The event was founded 21 years ago, but in that time, despite advances in medical treatment, Kentucky leads the nation in concurrent AIDS diagnoses. The number of HIV infections continues to grow, and alarmingly, it is surging among African-American women and the elderly.

Concurrent diagnoses are a diagnosis of HIV and a diagnosis of AIDS at the same time or shortly thereafter.

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"In Kentucky, 60 percent of people who are diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed with AIDS within 30 days of their HIV diagnosis, said Mallory Kruckman, who manages the pharmaceutical care of HIV-infected patients in this region. "That means people are getting tested late in their disease. [That's] why it's so important to be tested and treated early so their disease can be managed."

The Volunteers of America's Campus Clinic is on South Shelby street in Louisville. The VOA's Kentucky Care Coordinator Program is the state's largest provider of Ryan White Medical Case Management, serving more than 1,300 clients every year.

I talked with two of those patients, both African-American women who said there is still a stigma attached to the disease. Neither wanted to be identified by her real name.

"The man that I was married to didn't want me to let people know," said Sasha. "I actually lied to my son and told him [my husband] had allergies because at that time the stigma was still there. And it didn't open up because women weren't really getting it at that time."

Sasha's son was also infected with HIV. Her husband died from it.

Madea was married with a child when she was urged by health workers to get tested after an operation.

"Lo and behold, they told me that I was infected with HIV," said Madea. "I kind of thought it was a death sentence, and I didn't know how to handle it. I'd just had a new grandbaby and I thought it was the end of the world for me, and I quit my job, gave away most of my stuff."

But the women are on a medicine protocol and are living normal healthy lives now.

The most surprising segment of the population in which HIV infection is surging is elderly - many in nursing homes.

"It's very interesting," said Lucy Ricketts. vice president of marketing for FSA, an agency supporting the Louisville AIDS Walk. "A lot of people think that as they reach a certain age in their life, they believe, well, 'I can't have a child, so therefore if I'm going to be sexually active, I don't need to be careful, I don't need to use a condom.' So there has been... an increase in HIV and AIDS in the elderly population."

Here are other facts about HIV/AIDS in Kentucky:

  • The most common route of transmission among men is MSM (men who have sex with men)
  • The most common route of transmission among women is heterosexual contact
  • More minority male-reported IDU (injection drug use) compared to non-minority males
  • 60 percent of those diagnosed with HIS are diagnosed with AIDS either at the same time or within 30 days of their HIV diagnosis. This is alarming and means many people aren't getting diagnosed until very late in their disease.
  • From the beginning of the epidemic until June 30, 2013, 8,904 concurrent AIDS diagnoses have been made in Kentucky.

HIV/AIDS is completely preventable, and there are no signs of infection until the disease has progressed. The life-saving and urgent advice is to get tested.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone get an HIV test, just as you would check your cholesterol or bone health. It's easy – just a swab of the cheek, and it's free at all public health departments and many other agencies.

Click on the links below for the most current information about HIV in Kentucky and other helpful resources:

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