LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - This year Lubbock County has seen a nearly 300% increase in AIDS cases, and the year isn't yet over. NewsChannel 11 Investigative reporter Nicole Pesecky has been digging into these stats to find out why Lubbock has seen such an increase.
A lack in education could be to blame for the rise in HIV cases in Lubbock County; and now there is less education funding in Lubbock than in the past. The problem with this disease, it only takes one time and AIDS may go unnoticed, which means if you're sexually active, you could be infecting others and not even know it and that's why you're seeing Lubbock stats increase dramatically.
The face behind this disease could be a familiar one. Michael Wright is 50 years old, a full time Texas Tech student and volunteers with the student association in his free time. He lives a very normal life. "I do everything else that everyone else can do," Michael states.
Nineteen years ago Michael received some shocking news. "I decided to get tested and I did and it came back positive. I thought it was a death sentence," he explains.
The decision to get tested was probably something Michael should have done a lot sooner. "When I look back I can probably trace my infection back to 1984. So that's 25 years I've been living with it," Michael says.
For six years Michael believes he lived with the disease and didn't even know it. "It's those individuals who haven't been tested haven't told their partners because they don't know to tell their partners," Ricky Waite the coordinator with Project Champs says.
That isn't unusual. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 in every 4 people living with AIDS doesn't know that have it. "I didn't expect this to happen to me because I thought I didn't lead a promiscuous life style," Michael explains.
Waite says it doesn't matter what type of lifestyle you live, "Everyone is at risk. I don't care if you've never had sex, are going to have sex, will ever have sex, get tested for STD's."
Last year Lubbock County had 11 new HIV cases. This year, there were more than 29 new cases – that's a 263% increase. "We are seeing a growing trend towards younger people becoming infected with HIV," Waite explains. Which includes two 17-year-olds and Waite believes a lack in education here in Lubbock is to blame for that number.
When asked who is to blame for the lack in education, Waite responded, "We are all as a community. There's less awareness - nobody wants to talk about it. There's a stigma that we have about HIV and STDs. It's a societal issue that affects everyone," Waite says.
Everyone, including Michael, who is affected for the rest of his life but is still able to live life. "Today I don't feel it's a death sentence at all," he explains.
AIDS is not going away and the number of those infected keeps rising. "Getting tested for an STD does not make you a bad person, it makes you a responsible person," Waite says.
With recent budget cuts the South Plains Aids Research Center closed last summer and the city closed their STD clinic, but the state did reopen it. You can get tested there, which is at the health department but there is a slight fee - although no one can be turned away for inability to pay.
Don't assume that when you go to the doctor you're getting an HIV test, most of the time you're not. You need to ask for it.
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