Escambia County's Secret
Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Saturday and I hope your weekend is off to a safe and great start. It is another busy one for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.
As many of you know I am originally from Pensacola, Florida. Although I have not lived there since graduating from high school, my Dad still lives there and I will always consider Pensacola my home.
So I was shocked to get some recent news about HIV and AIDS in Escambia County where Pensacola is located.
Psst, Escambia County has an HIV/AIDS problem. It is not something their community leaders want to talk about, but the latest statistics are alarming.
Escambia County is ranked second in the state for most reported cases of women and children and is ranked 12th out of 67 counties in Florida for the most reported HIV/AIDS cases. One out of 44 African American males living in Escambia County is HIV positive. Twenty five percent of all new AIDS cases in Escambia County were in people 25 years old and younger.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the South has the largest number of persons living with an AIDS diagnosis in its metropolitan and rural areas. In its HIV Surveillance in Urban and Nonurban Areas report that was issued in December 2009, the CDC reported, Although metropolitan areas with populations of more than 500,000 have the largest number of AIDS cases, smaller metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, especially in the South, share a substantial burden of the AIDS epidemic.
Escambia County is the poster child for the AIDS epidemic in the region and state, with a 23 percent increase since 2005 in persons living in the county with HIV/AIDS. The county also ranks high in sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea (ranked 10th in Florida) and Chlamydia (13th).
Experts believe misconceptions about the disease as well as a lack of information are contributing to the elevated rate of cases.
It is definitely the poverty, and just plain denial across the board. People think if they are not gay, not poor and they do not do drugs, they are not going to get it, and so they just never test for it.
Testing is critical because many people do not develop any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. Some people may exhibit a flu like illness within three to six weeks after exposure to the virus. This illness, known as Acute HIV Syndrome, may include fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, diarrhea and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin.
These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for the flu or some other virus. However, during this stage, the infected person is more likely to pass on the infection to others.
More persistent or severe symptoms may not surface for several years, even a decade or more, after HIV first enters the body in adults, or within two years in children born with the virus. This period of asymptomatic infection varies from individual to individual. Even though the person may be symptom free, the virus is actively multiplying, infecting, and killing cells of the immune system.
HIV usually does not lead to AIDS until the patient starts suffering from acute immunity problems. HIV testing will help an infected person identify the virus and, with the help of proper medication, he may delay the onset of AIDS, which is the final stage of HIV infection when the person cannot fight basic diseases that a normal person can easily combat.
Everyone who practices unsafe sex, has a pre-existing sexually transmitted disease, or uses IV drugs is at high risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, more than 90 percent of all adolescent and adult HIV infections have resulted from heterosexual intercourse. Females are at as much risk as males. Unfortunately, too many people in the high risk categories, especially those in the minority communities, don’t get tested until the HIV virus is too advanced.
HIV/AIDS IN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY
A large percentage of the HIV/AIDS cases in Florida are African Americans. According to the Florida Department of Health, Florida had reported in 2009 a total of 93,053 persons living with a diagnosis of HIV infection, about one in 202 Floridians. African Americans accounted for 49 percent of that total, even though they only make up 16 percent of the state’s population. Fifty four percent of the HIV/AIDS deaths in 2008 were African Americans.
In Florida, one in 58 black males is known to be infected. In the Escambia County, that ratio is one in 44 black males and more than half of the adult AIDS and HIV cases are among blacks.
According to the FDOH’s report “HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Impact on Florida’s Black Community,” which was released last year, the underlying factors affecting HIV/AIDS disparities are:
-Pre-existing amount of HIV in the community;
-Late diagnosis of HIV or AIDS;
-Access to/acceptance of care;
-HIV/AIDS conspiracy beliefs;
-Delayed prevention messages to minorities (considered a gay, white male disease for a long time);
-Non-HIV STDs in the community;
-Complex matrix of factors related to socioeconomic status;
-Non-disclosure (closeting) of male sex with male risk to female partners;
-Prevalence of injection drug use, other risky behaviors;
Add to those factors Escambia County’s poverty and high illiteracy rate and it is not difficult to understand the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black community and the rest of the county.
Rev. Charles Morris, pastor of Bethel AME Church, has been preaching on HIV/AIDS awareness since 1998. While the statistics about African American males is alarming, the highest rates have been among African American women from the ages of 25 to 44,” said Morris. According to FDOH, AIDS still is, in fact, the leading cause of death for black females, age 25-44.
“As with any disease, early detection is the key,” said Pastor Morris, “as well as public awareness. An informed community is the best way to stop this epidemic.”
Tomorrow, I will continue talking about the problems and hopefully some solutions for my hometown.
Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.
big bear hug,