AIDS Rate in Long Beach Twice That Of LA County

LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA – The city’s AIDS rate is almost twice as high as Los Angeles County’s and more than double the state’s, according to a report prepared by city health officials and community members.
The City Council on Tuesday will hear this and other information as part of an annual progress report on the state of HIV and AIDS in Long Beach. Representatives from the city’s Health and Human Services Department and the Long Beach Comprehensive HIV Planning Group compiled the latest figures.
“The presentation will remind the community and all Long Beach residents that HIV and AIDS still remain critical health issues,” said Cheryl Barrit, prevention services officer at the city’s health department.
In 2006, Long Beach had a cumulative AIDS incidence rate of 1,124.54 cases per 100,000 people. Los Angeles County had 535.87, and California’s rate was 471.78. The cumulative rate counts all cases from 1981 through June 30, 2006.
In the state, only San Francisco and West Hollywood have higher rates than Long Beach, according to Nettie DeAugustine, bureau manager for preventive health at the Long Beach health department.
“There’s reason to be concerned,” DeAugustine said. “We have to be diligent and make sure we are presenting the message to schools, churches, in meetings, and everyone. We have to get out the word. We need to test more.”
For the past four years, the AIDS rate has leveled off despite spikes in cases among all women and black men, DeAugustine said. But the bulk of cases – 45 percent – still involve gay men, she said.
“The epidemic has changed. There are more people of color infected. The numbers have shifted somewhat in Long Beach,” DeAugustine said.
Greg Strayer, a Long Beach-based doctor who specializes in AIDS care, said the city’s high incident rate may reflect better AIDS care that allows patients to live longer, as well as the city’s popularity with gay men.
“The numbers are not alarming. It’s part of our culture in Long Beach. We’ve been like this for 26 years,” Strayer said.
Instead, Strayer said it’s more important to pay attention to new syphilis cases and methamphetamine users, both groups which are rapidly growing in the gay community.
With a $2 million annual AIDS/HIV budget from state and county funds, the city’s health department struggles to fulfill the needs of the city’s large infected population. It could use more money to hire additional outreach staff and to buy medication, and the department may ask the city for funding, DeAugustine said.
Health officials will recommend to the council more public education to encourage HIV/AIDS testing, help for community groups working on the issue and continuing discussions with the mayor and the council.
from The Press-Telegram

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