Area AIDS is up 16 percent

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The 43 current cases of AIDS in San Benito County may seem like
a small number to some, but health officials said the danger of
contracting the deadly virus is real.

Just because we live in Hollister and not San Francisco doesn’t
mean that the risk is not out there,

San Benito County Health Educator Suzi Deeb said.

If they participate in high risk activities, they are just as
susceptible to contracting AIDS as someone in a large city.

The 43 current cases of AIDS in San Benito County may seem like a small number to some, but health officials said the danger of contracting the deadly virus is real.

“Just because we live in Hollister and not San Francisco doesn’t mean that the risk is not out there,” San Benito County Health Educator Suzi Deeb said. “If they participate in high risk activities, they are just as susceptible to contracting AIDS as someone in a large city.”

According to the most recent statistics available from the San Benito County Health Department, the 43 people currently living with AIDS represents approximately a 16-percent increase from the 37 known cases of AIDS in the county during October 2002.

Deeb said it’s not the number of reported AIDS cases that has health officials concerned as much as it represents a nearly 34 percent increase in the number of local AIDS sufferers since the 32 known cases in October 1999, according to statistics from the county and the state Department of Health.

“Yes, it is a concern. The 43 people are just the ones that we know have AIDS,” Deeb said.

Deeb, who travels throughout the county teaching adults and teenagers about the dangers of AIDS, said there are probably many more people locally who are infected with AIDS or HIV but do not know it.

“People who are seeking treatment outside the county in Monterey or San Jose counties are not being counted in our local survey,” Deeb said.

Although AIDS has been a reality in San Benito County for more than 14 years, there are still a number of people who are misinformed about the virus or how you can contract it.

“A lot of people, here in San Benito County, still think that you can get infected from a mosquito bite,” Deeb said. “There are others who believe you can still contract the virus through casual contact.”

Patricia Morales, the county’s case manager who works with many of the local AIDS patients, said that is just a small example of the misconceptions residents still have about AIDS and HIV.

“There are still many people who don’t know that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing,” Morales said. “HIV is the virus that causes people to contract AIDS.”

She said full blown AIDS refers more to the complete crippling of a person’s immune system to the point where even a minor cold or infection could lead to death.

Another misconception residents have about aids is that only homosexual males or intravenous drug users can contract the virus. Deeb said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Nationally, the fastest growing population that is becoming infected with HIV is teens from having heterosexual sex,” Deeb said.

Most AIDS patients in San Benito County, approximately 60 percent of the 43 cases, are Hispanic or white males between 20 and 39 years old, according to local health statistics.

Deeb said that is why they have been pushing hard to get information to some of the most high risk populations in the county.

“We do education for populations that are considered high risk, such as the County Jail, Juvenile Hall, the migrant camp, the junior high and the high school,” Deeb said.

The San Benito Health Foundation offers HIV/AIDS testing during normal work hours weekdays. For more information on testing options, call the Health Foundation at 637-5306.

To learn more about lectures and educational materials on aids, call the San Benito Health Education Program at 636-4011.

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