HIV diagnosis rates are on the rise in San Luis Obispo County, and public health officials are urging residents to get tested for the disease.
The county’s Public Health Department reported seven new cases of HIV during the past three months, a rate officials call “concerning.”
“It’s an unusually high number of cases in a short period of time,” said Rick Rosen, deputy health officer for the San Luis Obispo County Public Health department.
Four new cases were reported from April to June, and one new case was reported during the prior three months, Rosen said.
The age range of the patients has also trended younger — from teens to individuals in their 30s, he said.
“We can’t draw any conclusions at this point, but it is concerning,” Rosen said.
HIV in SLO County
HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is a disease typically spread through sexual contact or sharing needles during intravenous drug use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease attacks a person’s immune system, and, if left untreated, progresses to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) — the last phase of the disease.
There’s currently no cure for HIV, and lifelong treatment is the only way to prevent it from progressing.
An epidemiology study by the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department released in May shows 188 cases of HIV that have not progressed to AIDS were reported in the county as of Jan. 1.
Outside of the county’s incarcerated population, men who have sex with other men are most at risk of being infected with HIV, followed by individuals engaging in heterosexual contact and intravenous drug users, according to the study.
New HIV diagnoses on the rise
Access Support Network — a nonprofit dedicated to helping individuals living with HIV or Hepatitis C — has also recently seen an increased number of newly diagnosed HIV patients, said David Kilburn, executive director.
“It’s been actually alarming,” he said.
The organization normally sees 15 newly diagnosed patients per year, Kilburn said.
Rosen and Kilburn said the new patients aren’t limited to any one group — among the new cases are individuals who identify as heterosexual, along with those who are part of the LGBTQ community.
“People are opting out of HIV testing, thinking they’re not at risk,” Kilburn said.
Kilburn and Rosen encouraged practicing safe sex by using condoms and other barriers. They also encouraged HIV testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a medication that can prevent those most at risk for getting the disease from becoming infected.
The Public Health Department offers HIV testing on a walk-in basis on Mondays from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and Wednesdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in San Luis Obispo at 2180 Johnson Ave.
For more information, visit the Public Health Department’s website at slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Health-Agency/Public-Health or call 805-781-4878.
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