Dear Dr. Rick,
I have heard that there is an “epidemic” of HIV infection in the state. Is this true?
--- Jane Byram, MS
Epidemic may be the wrong word, but we certainly have a major outbreak of HIV in the Mississippi Delta and in South Jackson that has been clearly documented. I suspect the same thing is going on elsewhere in the state and we will see the numbers of those infected go up elsewhere later. This puts Mississippi at the top of the list of states with new HIV infections. This is not good.
The outbreak primarily involves young men of color who have sex with other men. Several groups are studying this epidemic to understand why it has occurred. The most likely cause is that young people are not practicing safe sex methods, such as using condoms. These outbreaks of HIV in the gay community frequently move into the heterosexual community rapidly once they get started.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends regular testing for HIV in all individuals who have multiple sex partners, regardless of their sexual orientation and regardless of whether they use safe sex practices. That is not to say that using safe sex methods is not important, but they do not work 100% of the time.
Early treatment of HIV infection results in significantly less transmission and, if started early enough, can actually cure the disease. The Mississippi State Department of Health offers free HIV testing throughout the state, however there are opportunities for testing outside of the Health Department as well.
Pre-test counseling is critical to HIV testing. Many young people seek testing within 24 hours of risky behavior. That means they must be retested at a later time to confirm that they are indeed negative. Testing also offers an opportunity to check for syphilis, hepatitis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia which are also serious diseases and can have long term consequences. In my opinion, the local branch of the Health Department is the best place to go. You can find the closest testing center at http://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/19,0,166.html. This is a free service.
Below is a table from the CDC showing how HIV was transmitted in 13-19 year olds in 2010. Note that most transmission in young males occurred in men having sex with men. We have to realize that more than half of students graduating from high school have had sex and thus have had an opportunity to be exposed to HIV.
Thank you for asking me about this topic. You are not the only Mississippian with questions about our state’s HIV outbreak. That’s why we have produced a “Southern Remedy” television special on the topic, which is scheduled to air on MPB TV on May 5at 8 p.m. Please make an effort to see this program as the information we have obtained on this outbreak is mind-boggling.
- Dr. Rick
Modes of Transmission of HIV in 13-19 year olds, United States, 2010
Mode of Transmission
Male to male sexual contact (MSM)
Injection drug use (IDU)
MSM + IDU
HIV: human immunodeficiency virus; NA: not applicable; MSM – male to male sexual contact
*Heterosexual contact with a person known to have or to be at high risk for HIV infection.
-Includes hemophilia, blood transfusion, perinatal exposure, and risk factors not reported or not identified.
Adapted from: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV surveliance in adolescents and young adults. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/survelliance/resources/slides/adolescents/index.htm. Accessed on August 20, 2012
Dr. Rick deShazo, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and a practicing physician, is the host of Southern Remedy. The medical information presented by Southern Remedy is meant to provide general information about the topics discussed, and should not be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. The information conveyed does not create any type of patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Please consult your health-care provider before making any health-care decisions and for guidance about your specific medical condition.