One of the only retreats in the nation for HIV-infected people and their partners:
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.
“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
- AIDS Activists Arrested At Rehberg’s Office (dgsmith.org)
- Study finds HIV-infected men at risk for spreading HIV despite taking HAART (eurekalert.org)
- HIV Diminishes Lung Function (dgsmith.org)
- Analysis: Why some people do not receive continuous HIV medical care (dgsmith.org)
- Traumatized Women Have Higher HIV Infection Rates, USA (testcas.wordpress.com)
- Results of tests for recent HIV infection can be safely given to patients (testcas.wordpress.com)
I had the privilege to spend the weekend with 14 young gay/bi men from across the state of Montana for a weekend of fun, education, fun, community building, fun, discussion and did I say, fun?
Whenever I go away for the weekend I have a lot to catch up on- thus the reason for no posts for the last two days. But I wanted to say that being around these guys, watching their enthusiasm for life, their interest in making life better for young gay men in the state and the strength and energy they brought to (and hopefully took home from) this weekend, energized me and gave me renewed energy to do what I do.
It might sound sappy, but I don’t care. This retreat was the best I’ve ever been involved in- and the (I want to call them kids, but I don’t want to sound condescending) participants made me realize that the future is in pretty good hands.
That’s excellent, because I’m not getting any younger.
Special thanks to FDH and Associates (David Herrera, Chantz Thilmony) and the Montana Gay Men’s Task Force for their dedication to the wellness, safety and education of gay/bi men in Montana. And to Bernie Kneefe for being the Den Mother.
If you’re a young gay/bi man who wants to be involved in this next year- go here. They’ll hook you up.
- Montana Gay-Friendly Health and Mental Health Providers (dgsma.wordpress.com)
To register, click here.