Over the past 8 years, there’s been an almost 40 percent increase in people living with HIV in Dallas County. That’s according to a new study by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Dallas County Health Officials are particularly concerned about new cases in the 13 to 24 year-old age group.
Edward Vick: I ride two buses to get here…
Edward Vick, 22, is on his way to an appointment at AIDS Arms, a community resource center for people with HIV and AIDS. A few months ago, Vick found out he had contracted the virus a few months ago from his partner.
"I had a boyfriend that I was with. He was having sex with all different kinds of guys…Honestly, I regret not using protection. I really do," Vick said.
Case workers at AIDS Arms say Vick’s story is not uncommon. He’s a gay, black man having unprotected sex. According to a recent report from the Texas Department of State Health Services, Dallas County had the highest HIV infection rate of any urban county in Texas.
Darriane Martin: We do testing really well in Dallas County.
Darriane Martin is the HIV program director at AIDS Arms. She says African Americans had the most new diagnoses and make up the largest group of people living with HIV in Dallas County.
"Especially in communities of color, there’s such a stigma against being gay that just finding someone to accept them, love them, and want to have sex with them becomes a huge issue," she said. "If your self esteem is low, you’re less likely to ask for protection and less likely to protect yourself."
As it turns out, younger people are also less likely to use protection. Vick’s partner was older than him, and the relationship began when he was a teenager. That concerns Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zach Thompson. He says a quarter of new HIV diagnoses in the last 5 years were in the 13 to 24-year-old age range.
"We’re seeing a younger population as it relates to infection, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. What that’s demonstrating is that this age group is having unprotected sex. While it can be argued they should abstain…clearly the data shows that they are sexually active and therefore we have to deal with education and prevention," Thompson said.
Thompson says he has reached out to all of the Dallas County school superintendents to create a dialogue on how to encourage sexually active teens to use protection. He also says experts are trying to get parents, churches and community organizations involved.
"Anytime, you’re seeing significant numbers of new infections that’s a concern. I want to have a community conversation to look at the best way to address the infection rate in Dallas County," Thompson said.
After his appointment, Vick grabs a handful of condoms as he leaves AIDS Arms.
"Basically, if I see guys downtown – give 'em out to them. Make sure they’re safe and keeping it safe, at least," he said.
Officials expect HIV numbers in Dallas County to continue rising. One of the reasons for that is there’s less media attention than there was 20 years ago when a lot of people thought AIDS was a death sentence.
Today, experts believe there are many people living with HIV who don’t even know they have it.