Florida leads nation in new AIDS cases

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Florida leads the nation in new HIV cases

The number of overall cases are down, but Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties have some of the highest numbers in the country.

It says something about the stigma of HIV and AIDS that it took Alejandro Acosta six years to tell anyone he'd been diagnosed.

"Like most people, I took it really bad at the beginning in terms of isolation and in thinking about my own mortality," he offered.

Now, the Fort Lauderdale policy director for the Southern AIDS Coalition says treatments are so effective at warding off the worst consequences, and even infection itself, that AIDS fell off the front page.

"We are closer than ever to a cure, we are closer than ever to vaccines," he said.

However, the tempered urgency has the unintended consequence of allowing new cases to fester in Florida. The CDC said last week that in 2019 Florida had 24 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 13 nationwide. 

Florida is third in that category, and first in overall new cases with 4,400.

"People are willing to take the risk because it is not a death sentence anymore," said Joy Winheim, the executive director of Empath Partners in Care.

The federal government has categorized 48 areas of concern, which include Hillsborough and Pinellas counties

They promise extra resources to try to limit infections by 75 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2030.

"We feel pressure in having all of those programs," said Winheim. "It is up to us to get the rates down. It's up to us to get the education out there so people make better and more informed choices."

Overall cases are well down from 130,000 in 1985 to about 36,000 today.

Acosta says the talk about COVID has helped restart interest in AIDS prevention.

"HIV had really almost disappeared from public discourse," said Acosta. "And now people have a different language and vocabulary that makes talking about HIV much simpler than it was."

One thing advocates are waiting to see is whether COVID had an impact on the amount of transmission. Rates had already been dropping nationwide by about 8 percent between 2015 and 2019.