Why Are HIV Rates So High in Florida Cities?

01 Sep 2011

written by Elissa Vallano

AIDSVu HIV Map

AIDSVu HIV Map

In the early 1980s, doctors and health officials began seeing cases of an unidentified disease plaguing gay men across the United States. Initially referred to as “gay cancer” and “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” (GRID), the disease was known to be acquired through sexual contact and cause cellular-immune dysfunction. It wasn’t long before the medical community discovered this new and deadly disease was not specific to the gay community – that men, women and children of all sexual orientations and backgrounds were infected and at risk. By 1982, the disease had its name – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) – but its true nature and global reach was yet to be realized.

As of 2009, there are over 54,000 Americans infected with HIV – the virus that causes AIDS – and 33.3 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. Since its official discovery, more than 60 million people have been infected with HIV, and AIDS currently ranks as the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, and the fourth leading cause of death globally. In the United States, Washington, DC has seen its HIV infections increase 3.2 percent among people over 12 years old – an infection rate on par with some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Despite public knowledge of its scope and consequences, HIV/AIDS is still a real and prevalent health problem affecting communities around the world.

By compiling data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) national HIV surveillance database, AIDSVu seeks to raise awareness about the HIV pandemic in cities and towns nationwide. The online tool, created by researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, allows users to visually explore infection rates alongside critical resources such as HIV testing center locations and NIH-Funded HIV Prevention & Vaccine Trials sites.

Thirty years have passed since its initial discovery, but HIV/AIDS is still a health crisis in many American communities. So the question is – how does your city measure up? According to the latest census and CDC data, the top 10 US cities with the highest rates of HIV infections are:

1.) Miami, FL

2.) Baton Rouge, LA

3.) Jacksonville, FL

4.) New York, NY-NJ-PA

5.) Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV

6.) Columbia, SC

7.) Memphis, TN-MS-AR

8.) Orlando, FL

9.) New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA

10.) Baltimore-Towson, MD

With three major Florida cities on the list, it’s interesting to see which communities are being hit hardest by the disease. According to AIDSVu, the rate ratio of black to white males living with an HIV infection in Florida is 4.9 to 1. The ratio of Hispanic to white males with HIV is 1.8 to 1, for black to white females it’s a staggering 18.2 to 1, and for Hispanic to white females it’s 2.6 to 1.

The HIV trends in Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, District of Columbia, Maryland and New York all reflect the same tragic pattern as Florida. Despite the fact that all of these states have much higher populations of white residents than any other race, it’s the black community – notably black women – who are suffering the most from the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the United States. In fact, blacks represent only 12% of the domestic population, but they account for almost half (46%) of people living with HIV in the US, as well as nearly half (45%) of new infections each year.

“We found substantial levels of HIV infections and high-risk behavior, infrequent testing and low awareness. This is a major concern,” said Dr. Alexandra Oster, a co-medical epidemiologist with the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC. “This provides insight into the population we most need to be reaching.”

In recent news, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation recently filed complaints with federal and Florida state health officials after an adult film performer tested HIV-positive. In California, adult film performers are required to be tested every 30 days and show proof of a negative test before they can perform. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is pushing for similar standards in Florida.

What do you think of the rankings? Is there more your city could be doing to raise HIV/AIDS awareness? Let us know in the comments.

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About the author

Elissa Vallano is a contributing writer to MyCityWay.

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