WASHINGTON – The number of people living with HIV and AIDS in Maryland reached 26,231 last year, the latest in a line of steady increases since the state began reporting HIV infections in 1994.
The 2002 level represented an increase of 1,803 cases over 2001, and a new high for the state, the Maryland AIDS Administration reported.
One reason for the increase is that “people with the disease are living much longer” because of new medications, said Colin Flynn, chief of epidemiology at the administration. But he warned that complacency is dangerous.
“We have treatments . . . but people are still getting sick and dying,” Flynn said.
Maryland’s AIDS rate was still third-highest in the nation in 2002, at 34 reported cases for every 100,000 in population, trailing only Washington, D.C., and New York state, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About half of the state’s HIV and AIDS cases were reported in Baltimore City and about 15 percent were in Prince George’s County, the administration report said. Montgomery County had the third-highest number of cases in the state.
African Americans accounted for nearly 82 percent of the state’s cases in 2002, and men made up about 65 percent of the total, the report said. Nationally, the largest group affected by AIDS is still homosexual men, according to the CDC.
But while half of all new HIV cases nationwide were among people under the age of 25, only about 20 percent of the new cases in Maryland were diagnosed in people who were 29 years old or younger.
About half of the new HIV cases reported in Maryland during 2002 resulted from heterosexual contact, according to the AIDS Administration. More than a third of the newly reported HIV patients in Maryland were intravenous drug users and about 15 percent of the new cases were gay men.
Michael Cover, a spokesman for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, said experimentation with alcohol and drugs “fuels the epidemic,” causing some young adults who are just becoming sexually active to make decisions that put them at risk of contracting HIV.
Cover, 41, a gay man who is HIV-positive, said he watched “dozens and dozens” of his friends die of AIDS in Washington during the 1980s. He said medical improvements have spared many younger gay men from similar experiences — but may also have blinded them to the danger.
“The medications make the disease a little more invisible,” Cover said. “They don’t get a true picture about the danger this poses.”
Cover said his clinic, which serves patients the Washington metropolitan area, has seen at least 2,000 new patients since 1999 — many of them without insurance. To effectively fight the epidemic, society must have “frank, honest, direct” conversations about sex and encourage young people to be abstinent or use condoms, Cover said.
On Monday, politicians and AIDS groups marked World AIDS Day to call attention to the estimated 40 million people worldwide infected with HIV. Cover said that while he is grateful for the spotlight the day brings, the epidemic is with us “all day long, every day of the year.”
“We need a renewed national commitment to end this epidemic by any means necessary,” Cover said. “We need a war on HIV.”