COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is seeing a dramatic uptick in HIV diagnoses, a trend that is mostly concentrated in the central part of the state, according to health experts.
New HIV diagnoses in Missouri increased by more than 10 percent between 2013 and 2016, which is the most recent state data available. But the increase was much steeper in the 40 central counties that the state considers part of the Central HIV Care Region, with new HIV diagnoses climbing by nearly 170 percent during that same period, the Columbia Missourian reported.
Almost all of those cases occurred through sexual transmission, said Derek Landes, who directs prevention education and outreach health services at Spectrum Health Care in Columbia.
Men who have sex with men continue to be the most vulnerable group to contract HIV, which weakens the body’s immune system by destroying white blood cells that fight infection. About 1 in 6 men who have sex with men will likely contract HIV in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There’s a growing trend among younger generations that HIV isn’t something they have to worry about anymore, Landes said.
The rapid spread of HIV in the 1980s was in part the result of misunderstanding and social discrimination toward the gay community. When individuals contracted HIV in the 80s, it was often a death sentence. But now there are more treatment options and certain groups are viewing HIV as having concluded, according to Landes.
“When it becomes less of a threat, people care less,” he said. “They tend to take riskier behavior.”
Landes added that the stigma surrounding HIV diagnoses is another reason for the increase.
He said it’s getting harder to educate people about HIV treatments and offer resources because of budget cuts at the state and national level.
“As funding disappears, it becomes harder and harder to have agencies like us get the most vulnerable populations the help that they need,” Landes said.