Number of HIV cases rises in college-aged individualsBy Matt Mecoli | 10/19/2011 11:10pm
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, as of Oct. 1, there have been 17,799 reported cases of HIV in the state of Alabama so far this year. Around 3 percent of cases reported were in the Tuscaloosa area.
Susan Gaskins, who is an AIDS Certified RN, a professor in the College of Nursing at UA and director-at-large on the HIV/AIDS Nursing Certification Board, said despite an increased ability to identify HIV and additional precautions that can be taken to prevent contracting the disease, the number of reported cases continues to grow.
According to AVERT, an international HIV & AIDS charity, “numerous studies have shown that condoms, if used consistently and correctly, are highly effective at preventing HIV infection.”
“We can identify the virus," Gaskins said. "We know the steps to prevent infection. So, people should not still be getting infected.”
The ADPH also reports that 14.41 percent of the known cases this year have been within the age group of 13- to 24-year-olds. While this is a lower percentage than the middle-aged adult group (33.93 percent), Gaskins said bad habits are leading to a rise in college-aged individuals contracting the disease.
“College-aged students know about HIV,” Gaskins said. “They know how to prevent it, but they don’t do it. When teens are drinking, they are less likely to practice safer sex.”
She added one-night stands and random hook-ups are more likely to lead to the passing on of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
“It’s just not something you really think about as being possible," said Jamie Watson, a sophomore majoring in nursing. "It’s almost like ‘that only happens to other people.’ It’s weird to think that it could actually happen.”
Gaskins said people should start taking personal responsibility for protecting themselves and should get tested immediately if they think they’ve contracted an STD. She said that while a number of STDs do not have a known cure, they are more manageable the earlier they are detected. Additionally, early detection can help prevent the spread of STDs.
Locally, HIV testing is conducted at the Student Health Center and the West Alabama AIDS outreach clinic in downtown Tuscaloosa.
In addition to HIV/AIDS relief efforts in Tuscaloosa, one of the premier centers for AIDS research is the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. On Sept. 27, UAB was host to the first of several National HIV/AIDS Strategy Implementation Dialogue meetings, which are being held by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy in an effort to examine issues and encourage action and collaboration.