Toni Harrison

HIV infections among youths increasing in Fresno County

Toni HarrisonHIV infections among teenagers and young adults in Fresno County are at their highest levels in years and there’s concern of an outbreak or epidemic if the trend continues.

In 2017, Fresno County reported 15 preliminary HIV infections in youths between ages 15 and 19. And there were 31 preliminary infections among young adults between ages 20 and 24. The numbers, which have not been finalized, are the highest in the county since 2010.

“We’re actually passing San Francisco now for the number of new infections, which to me is stunning,” says Dr. Simon Paul, medical director of the Specialty Health Center at Community Regional Medical Center where people with HIV infections go for care.

Paul is an HIV doctor and not an an epidemiologist who studies health trends, but he uses “outbreak” when describing the latest HIV numbers in Fresno County. In April, he sent an email to officials at the Fresno County Department of Public Health about concerns, including an observation that new infections have increased since the county closed a clinic for HIV treatment and sexually transmitted diseases in 2010.

The Fresno County health department gets funding for HIV prevention only from the state. This fiscal year it received $296,685. And the county has not restored HIV services to pre-2010 levels when a sexually transmitted disease clinic offered HIV testing, counseling and treatment. The STD clinic now offers HIV testing but refers HIV-positive patients to doctors outside for care. The clinic has limited testing and treatment for syphilis.

Health officials made the decision to essentially close the STD clinic in 2010 to save about $523,000 and help plug a $5 million hole in a $54.8 million department budget to keep everything from restaurant inspections to flu-shot clinics open.

PrEP is an incredible tool to prevent infections, Toni Harrison says. “People should be aware of that, especially folks with multiple sex partners.” But budget cuts have affected funding for HIV education and awareness, she says. The Living Room, which has provided HIV services for 22 years, has scaled back on what it provides.

Continue reading at The Fresno Bee

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