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State sees a jump in AIDS cases


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Apathy among the state's residents may be the cause of an increase in the number of AIDS cases in Oklahoma, health officials say.

In a recent medical study, Oklahoma City and Tulsa were among cities with the highest percent of change in the number of reported AIDS cases in the last decade.

The number of new AIDS cases reported in Oklahoma City has more than doubled since 1990, according to a study conducted by the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York.

The report shows 94 new cases of AIDS in Oklahoma City in 2000 _ an incidence of about 18.6 new cases for every 100,000 residents.

In 1990, officials recorded 46 new AIDS cases in Oklahoma City.

In Tulsa, the report showed 34 new cases in 2000, up from 28 in 1990.

The study used data from the Census Bureau and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to track AIDS rate changes in the nation's 100 largest cities from 1990 to 2000.

Michelle Green-Gilbert, a training director for the state Health Department, said the increase in AIDS may be attributed to risky behaviors among local residents.

``You just have a group of people who have been inundated with talk about HIV and AIDS that they have just turned a deaf ear,'' she said. ``They are not using protection. They are just living their lives freely, in a sense.''

The state Health Department recorded 4,098 Oklahomans living with AIDS at the end of last year. Almost half the carriers _ 1,942 people _ range in age from 30 to 39 years old. Less than 50 people with AIDS are under age 20.

Health officials have also seen an increase in AIDS cases in the black community.

One in five new cases of HIV are among blacks. Health Department officials are working with clergy groups to help increase community awareness.

``If you look at the amount of African Americans in this state they amount to about 11 to 12 percent of the population, but still account for one in five with HIV,'' she said. ``That is reason to be concerned.''

Jean Ann Van Krevelan, executive director of the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network said about 400 volunteers across Oklahoma provide nonmedical support services to people living with AIDS.

The group has given educational programs to local churches, but has seen a decline in requests.

``People are under the misconception that if you are HIV-positive, you can just take some medication and everything will be OK. I really disagree with that,'' Van Krevelan said. ``It still has a serious impact on a person's health, their psychological and emotional well-being and their economic standing. It's still a disease to be contended with.''

She estimates the state's 2,600 reported HIV cases account for only about one-third of those living with the disease in Oklahoma.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus. The virus attacks and breaks down the body's immune system. The disease is spread through sexual contact and needle sharing during drug use.
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