Pubdate: Sat, 30 Dec 2000
Source: Santa Barbara News-Press (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Santa Barbara News-Press
Contact:  P.O. Box 1359, Santa Barbara, CA 93102
Author: Laura Price
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Thank you for the recent article by Joshua Molina covering the local needle 
exchange program in Santa Barbara County.

I work for Santa Barbara County Public Health, under the AIDS Surveillance 
program. It is my job to record new AIDS cases that are diagnosed in Santa 
Barbara County, then send information confidentially to the State Office of 

AIDS case information is used to examine the AIDS epidemic in our area, as 
well as in California and the nation. My goal is to provide the most 
accurate and up-to-date statistics on AIDS in the county.

Currently, we have 654 confirmed cases of AIDS that were diagnosed since 
the 1980s when the state began keeping this confidential information. We 
don't know how many HIV diagnoses there have been, since HIV is not yet a 
reportable disease in California. There are efforts to make HIV reportable, 
just as AIDS is, but the actual reporting may not take place for a year or 

We do know that the figure "654 AIDS cases" is a mere tip of the iceberg 
and doesn't represent the enormity of the epidemic in our community. There 
are many people who have lived, or are currently living here, with AIDS who 
were diagnosed outside this county, and there are more who have HIV/AIDS 
but don't know it and are not accessing medical care or practicing safe 

In the past two months we have found three new AIDS diagnoses in adults who 
were critically ill but didn't know they had AIDS. This reflects the common 
finding nationwide that many people may be infected with HIV, or may have 
progressed to AIDS, yet they have no knowledge of their medical status 
until the end of life.

In the past year, we have found about two new AIDS cases and one new HIV 
positive test per month. Again, this figure is a small subset of what 
really exists countywide. Many doctors don't report new cases, and this 
office obtains HIV test result information from only a handful of public 
HIV testing sites. It is easy to extrapolate that the number of people 
currently infected with HIV/AIDS is at the 2,000 mark in our community.

The bottom line is HIV/AIDS is going strong and continues to threaten our 
community. With the partial success of the new AIDS drugs, many people 
believe AIDS is no longer a serious threat, some have let their guard down 
and resorted to unsafe behaviors either through denial or ignorance. Many 
people infected with HIV/AIDS will continue to infect others simply because 
they do not know their status.

The importance and necessity of a viable needle exchange program in Santa 
Barbara County can't be over-estimated. In addition to preventing the 
spread of HIV/AIDS, needle exchange also prevents the spread of Hepatitis 
C; a disease we realize is a much bigger threat than previously assumed. 
Through education about HIV, testing for antibodies to the virus, 
information on safer sex, the use of condoms, and the needle-exchange 
program, we can help prevent the continuation of this disease. Thousands of 
county residents will be saved from illness and an early death by these 
prevention methods.

To learn where you can be tested for HIV, call the HIV testing program at: 

Laura Price, AIDS Surveillance coordinator
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D