Baton Rouge #1 in AIDS cases per capita, but why?

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - People on the front lines in the fight against AIDS in Baton Rouge are sorting through new government numbers. The numbers show the Baton Rouge region now leads the Nation in AIDS cases per capita.

Baton Rouge has been number two on the list of cities with the most per capita AIDS cases for a long time. AIDS prevention advocates have been working hard to change that, so you can imagine how devastating it was to find out Baton Rouge moved up, not down, in the rankings.

Sharon Decuir is putting together materials she hopes will educate people about AIDS and HIV; the virus that causes AIDS. A big part of her job is also to give people tools to keep from getting the disease.

Decuir says the numbers blew her away that showed Baton Rouge and the eight parishes around it lead the county in AIDS cases per 100,000 people.

"We have a long road ahead of us," she said. "Apparently we have people that are missing the message, clearly not seeing the message."

Getting people to be tested for HIV is part of that message. Advocates say an increase in people being screened may be partly to blame for Baton Rouge's dubious, new AIDS ranking.

Here is the problem: "A lot of people in the Baton Rouge area are testing late. They're not testing until they become symptomatic," said Tim Young, HAART AIDS prevention worker.

Twenty years ago, Magic Johnson discovered he had HIV long before the virus had a chance to develop into full blown AIDS. "If they find that they are HIV positive, then it's essential that they get treatment as quickly as possible so they don't progress in their disease," said Young.

Early diagnosis and treatment have always been key themes in the war on AIDS in the Baton Rouge area. In light of the new numbers, you can expect Sharon Decuir, who is also HIV positive herself, to work harder than ever to make sure people at risk get the message.

In Baton Rouge, there are 4,851 people with HIV or full blown AIDS. 82 percent are black. 45 percent are men who have engaged in same sex relationships, many of whom are also IV drug users. Thirty seven percent are women who got it from men. Most are low income and between 30 and 55 years of age.

The most important message for not getting AIDS is to avoid risky sex and to catch it early with screening.

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