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Doctors Push Testing, Needle Exchange to Combat Surging AIDS Cases

Photo: National Eye Institute via Wikimedia Commons

New data on HIV/AIDS cases from the Center for Disease Control paint an alarming picture of the disease spreading in South Florida. Cities like Miami report triple the national rate for new HIV infections in 2015, while smaller cities in Southwest Florida continue to show some of the highest number of cases per capita in the nation.

The CDC's preliminary HIV Surveillance Report for 2015 shows the Fort Myers/Cape Coral metropolitan area ranks 36th in the nation for new HIV cases. Ninety new cases were reported in the area in that year, pushing the number of cases per 100,000 people to 12.8 (above the national average of 12.3 cases).

Data from state health officials show 44 percent of HIV patients in Southwest Florida contracted the virus thorough homosexual sex, while 33 percent through heterosexual sex. Roughly 12 percent of cases were the result of IV drug use.

Most news cases, doctors in the area say, are spread by people who don't know they have the virus. That's a gap that doctors say is driven by a lack of routine testing for the virus, regardless of a person's risk factors.

Monday at 1:30 p.m. on Gulf Coast Live, Dr. Doug Brust with Lee Health discusses his work in HIV/AIDS care, and his emphasis on using treatment and testing to prevent new transmissions. 

Also joining the conversation is Dr. Hansel Tookes, a Miami doctor spearheading Florida's only needle exchange program in his efforts to combat the spread of the HIV/AIDS through IV drug use. It's a program Dr. Tookes argues can save lives while also saving millions in healthcare costs each year.

Matthew Smith is a reporter and producer of WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.
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