HIV infection has increased unexpectedly in Missoula County- 12 new cases in five months- almost half the number of all reported cases in Montana last year.
From The Missoulian:
“We tend to see small numbers of new cases every year, but to have this many new cases – at this count 12 – documented in a five-month period is an unusually high number,” Missoula City-County Health Department Director Ellen Leahy said on Wednesday. “Twelve cases in one county in five months is an outbreak.”
HIV causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS, a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease. It is spread by unprotected sexual contact or infected blood transfer, such as sharing infected hypodermic needles. Leahy said all the Missoula cases appeared to stem from sexual activity.
The announcement was made after consulting with many community groups, including Partnership Health Center, the Montana Gay Men’s Task Force and the Open Aid Alliance. Open Aid director Christa Weathers said the decision to publicize the outbreak was a hard one, because health officials depend on people self-reporting their condition to track the disease’s spread.
“It’s hard to issue a public health risk without creating alarm, or without pointing fingers at any group of people,” Weathers said. “It’s a great opportunity to remind people this is a risk and why testing is so important. But we don’t want to discourage anyone who may know they may need to get tested, but they’re afraid to come in and then this hits the media and they’re gone.”
So far, all the confirmed cases are adult males. But Leahy warned that women who don’t consider themselves members of a high-risk group for HIV infection have also been exposed.
“It’s sexually spread, but it’s time to remind ourselves – you really cannot know if you’re infected unless you’ve been tested,” Leahy said. “We recommend health clinics regularly offer HIV testing to sexually active patients. Rather than presume someone is in a risk group, it’s risk behavior, not membership in any group, that they need to think about.”
Several of my sources say the newly-infected persons are young men who simply didn’t practice safe sex, thinking “It’s Montana- I’m not at risk”. These men, mostly in their twenties, I’m told, will now have a lifetime of medication, stigma and health issues to deal with. It saddens me.
Today is a good day to be tested. For a list of Montana free Rapid HIV Testing sites, click here.
If you’re in Bozeman, call AIDS Outreach 406-451-5718 (the number in the link above is incorrect) or go to AIDSOutreachMT.org