Wyoming HIV/AIDS Program Adds Increasing Number Of Clients
The number of new clients enrolled in an HIV/AIDS program in Wyoming is increasing, with some experts attributing the rise to a greater number of people taking HIV tests and more people traveling outside of the state, contracting the virus and later returning, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.
According to Laurie Johnson, clinical director of the state's Early Intervention Services, since about April, 24 HIV-positive people have been newly placed in the program, and there are several others waiting for confirmation test results. Typically, the federally funded program adds six to 10 new people every year, Johnson said. "Over the past four months, we have seen a lot of absolute new cases, with clients who have told us this is their first test," Johnson said, adding that the 24 people diagnosed with HIV are most likely new cases but that a few could have tested positive in other states and not informed anyone.
Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases, who helps oversee Early Intervention Services, said the increase in the number of cases is attributable to improved access to HIV testing. Rob Johnston, HIV prevention program manager for the Wyoming Department of Health, said that although rapid testing has helped identify more HIV cases, he has simply seen more people contract the virus. Over the past year, Johnston's program has followed up on positive tests more thoroughly and scaled up efforts to contact people who might have been exposed to HIV, according to the Tribune.
Nevertheless, Dowell said few people are contracting HIV in Wyoming; rather, they are leaving the state, engaging in risky behavior and then returning. He said, "It's not like a new reservoir of HIV infection living in the state," adding that some people who do contract the virus in Wyoming do so from someone who moved to the state. However, the Tribune reports that although some of the cases were contracted outside of the state, health officials said HIV/AIDS is definitely "here in Wyoming."
According to the health department's HIV/AIDS surveillance reports, 166 HIV-positive people were living in Wyoming as of Dec. 31, 2007, and between Jan. 1 and June 30, there were eight new cases of HIV/AIDS reported. Cheryl Corbin, HIV surveillance coordinator for the state, said this year's number will be a "little higher" compared with 2007, when there were 14 new HIV cases and three new AIDS cases with no prior diagnosis of HIV.
Dowell said that the state's numbers lag behind his experiences -- while he usually finds out about a new case immediately, the state has to wait for the diagnosing physician to fill out appropriate paperwork, which means it could be weeks or months before the case is included in Wyoming's data. Dowell said, "It's not really about the absolute number but about the concepts," adding, "The concept is this: There is increased awareness about HIV and much more access to testing. We should be proud we have more availability of testing" (Rupp, Casper Star-Tribune, 11/24).
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