Increasing Number of New HIV Cases in El Paso, Texas, Recorded Among Young People
The number of HIV cases among people younger than age 35 in El Paso, Texas, is on the rise, highlighting what some health officials say is a trend of complacency about the virus, the El Paso Times reports. The city's health department records indicate a shift in the ages of people testing HIV-positive. In 2004, the majority of newly reported cases occurred among men older than age 35, while in 2007 and 2008, more cases were newly recorded among people in their 20s and early 30s. Twenty-two cases have been reported in the first three months of this year, with more than half among people younger than age 35. Twenty-one cases were among men, with seven among men ages 24 or younger and five among men ages 25 to 34. Three cases occurred among men between ages 35 and 39, while the remaining six cases occurred among men ages 45 to 64.
According to Tony Ramos, director of prevention and education at Planned Parenthood Center at El Paso's Desert Rainbow Center, said, "There seems to be a lot of risk-taking by young people that we have not seen before. Before, people were aware of HIV and AIDS, but now they kind of know about it." Ramos said that there are few HIV cases recorded among injection drug users and that education campaigns about the risks of injection drug use have been effective. Some health officials attribute the rise in HIV-positive clients to an increase in transmissions as well as testing. Clinic workers also attribute many HIV cases among young people to unprotected sex, citing not only a rise in HIV cases but also cases of other sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies. "No one is having protected sex these days. Sex is very casual and they don't think about protection," Robin Ricart, nurse program manager for the health department's STI clinic, said. Ramos noted that Desert Rainbow Center has increased its outreach efforts, particularly by providing no-cost testing at bars and at the University of Texas-El Paso.
Denise Clark, president of the National AIDS Fund Board of Trustees, said that complacency about the disease is occurring nationwide, adding, "I believe people think that it's not as prevalent maybe as it used to be, or they're not hearing as much about it and therefore it must be better." America Jones, chief nursing officer at the city's Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe's CARE Center, said that eight years ago, the center saw about 130 patients and now has more than 700 clients. On average, patients are between ages 30 and 50, but in recent years, more cases have been recorded among people over age 50 and those between ages 18 and 26, according to Jones (Johnson, El Paso Times, 4/26).