SNHD: Spike in people testing positive for HIV

LAS VEGAS - An increase in a number of people who have tested positive for HIV in Clark County has become a dangerous trend that is catching the attention of the Southern Nevada Health District.

The health district believes there are a couple of contributing factors including unsafe sex facilitated by social media and so-called "hook-up" apps.  The SNHD says new diagnoses of HIV has climbed in Clark County for the past five years.

One man who was diagnosed with HIV has dedicated his life to helping others who are living with the same virus that was once considered a death sentence.  But according to James Foley, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, the road to accepting his diagnosis wasn't easy.

"The first five years, I didn't even tell my family," Foley said. "Probably one of the hardest conversations I've ever had to have with my parents was letting them know that I was gay, I had HIV-AIDS, and that I would be dead in 6-months."

Foley said he contracted HIV through a partner.  He was only 26 when he was diagnosed.

However, Foley was able to cheat death when he was chosen for a trial study.

"The generation that's coming up behind us is kind of ignorant to what happened in the 1980's.  They didn't see the death," Foley said.

Foley now works at the center's testing clinic.  Part of his job includes delivering the same news he gave to his parents decades ago.

"Having to give someone that information -- that they have HIV is still devastating," said Foley.

According to Foley, even more, devastating is that the people being tested positive for HIV are getting younger and younger.
 
In 2016, the majority of the new diagnosis in Clark County was between 25 and 34 years old.

"I think a lot of it is the unsafe practice that people are having, plus we have all those apps," said Foley.  "You don't even have to go to a bar anymore you can hook up with somebody online."

During the same year, there was a 9 percent uptick compared to 2015 with African Americans and Latinos, making up the majority of the 469 new cases.

"We know people are meeting their partners online cause when we investigate a case, and when we are working with the community, that's what the community is telling us," said Marlo Tonge, communicable disease manager for the Office of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance, SNHD.

The leading cause of infection is sexual encounters between men, who make up about 85 percent of those living with HIV in Clark County.  About a quarter of those who test positive in 2016 did not disclose how they contracted the virus, officials said.

"There's still a lot of stigmas that surrounds HIV," according to Foley.

The health district says access to the health care is another issue among the most at-risk populations.  The first step to life after HIV is to get diagnosed. 

For more information on free testing go here.

 


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