HIV diagnoses on the rise, but AIDS deaths down

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MASON CITY - More Iowans are being diagnosed with HIV, but the number of Iowans dying from AIDS is decreasing.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reports that 1,567 people in Iowa were living with HIV or AIDS in 2008. That includes 642 cases of HIV and 925 cases of AIDS.

There were 127 new diagnoses of HIV reported in 2007. That's more than in the previous two years. In the first half of 2008, the latest reporting period, 49 diagnoses were reported. That compares to 59 during the same period in 2007.

The health department estimates another 566 people are infected but haven't been diagnosed.

AIDS became reportable in Iowa in 1983.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, a disease that weakens the immune system, gradually destroying the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. There is no cure.

Public health spokesman Randy Mayer said last year there were 32 Iowans who died of AIDS. That compares to 102 deaths in 1995.

More Iowans are living with HIV and AIDS because of improved medications, which are keeping patients alive longer, Mayer said.

"With good treatment and early diagnosis, we wouldn't expect it to significantly change your life expectancy," he said. "It's starting to move, in some people's minds, to more of a chronic disease."

Unprotected sex is the primary cause of HIV and AIDS in Iowa, Mayer said. Most AIDS patients are men.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 1 million U.S residents are living with HIV or AIDS, and about a quarter of them don't know they have it. According to the CDC, about 75 percent of the 40,000 new infections each year are in men.

The Cerro Gordo County Department of Health in Mason City tests for HIV. Betty Krones, a registered nurse and disease prevention specialist, says about one-third of the people who have HIV aren't aware of it.

"Our job as a testing facility is to find those who are HIV-positive. We go over the results with them and hook them up with the services they need. We want to help them live a healthy life," Krones said.

Those who test positive are referred to an HIV clinic for treatment. In Iowa, clinics are in Des Moines, Davenport, Iowa City and Sioux City.

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