HIV cases on the rise in Wisconsin and La Crosse County
People all around the world are marking the 25th year now of World Aids Day.
In just the last year, Wisconsin has seen a 19 percent increase in the number of HIV infections.
In the last 25 years, the world has seen many strides in fighting the AIDS epidemic with better treatment medications and more prevention awareness, but all of the advancements might just be overshadowing the growing problem.
“HIV is reemerging,” said Laura Runchey, AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, prevention specialist. “It is here in Wisconsin.”
Runchey sees the effects of AIDS in people first hand.
“It gets heartbreaking,” said Runchey. “You kind of see the struggle they go through with just the accessing of care with just emotional struggles.”
It's the struggle for nearly 150 people in La Crosse County living with HIV. Runchey said that number's growing with a spike in 10 new cases just last year.
“For our population numbers, it’s a significant number,” said Runchey.
While advancements in medical treatments and awareness have saved countless lives, some things about the deadly virus haven't changed.
“The people who were most at risk at the time are still the people who are most at risk today,” said Runchey.
The highest risk is still men who have sex with other men. That accounts for 51 percent of HIV infections.
It drops off significantly from there. The second highest risk is from people sharing needles. That's 17 percent of HIV cases.
“I really think it's fallen off the radar screen of awareness for a lot of Americans,” said Dr. David McNamara, of Gunersen Lutheran Health System.
McNamara treats patients with HIV-AIDS at Gundersen Lutheran. He said part of the reason for the increase in cases could be the advancements in treatment themselves.
“We have people living with HIV/AIDS as a chronic medical condition that's really managed and treated,” said McNamara. “There’s maybe not as many acute deaths as there was 15 or 20 years ago, and I think, partly as a consequence of that, a lot of us have forgotten messages in terms of HIV prevention.”
While an end to HIV/AIDS is still a long ways away, Runchey said prevention and awareness are still the key to a AIDS-free generation.
“The more we fight, the closer we get,” said Runchey. “The more we know, the closer we get and every single day we get closer.”
Runchey also said the trend for new infections in Wisconsin seems to be getting younger.
She's not sure it's the lack of awareness and education or if people are getting tested younger and the infection is getting caught sooner.
Wisconsin ranks in the bottom 10 states in the nation for the number of AIDS cases. New York and California are the highest.
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