Experts: Ski country AIDS, HIV rates are on the rise
Colorado’s rural, resort counties are seeing an increase in HIV infections that rivals the state’s metropolitan areas, health officials say. Eagle County and other counties like it attract young, transient workers who like to party and tend to engage in activities that increase their risk of contracting HIV, said Carolyn Hamilton, HIV/early intervention coordinator for the Colorado West Mental Health agency. Unprotected sex and an increase in intravenous drug use elevate HIV infection rates among young people and women. The Hispanic community also is seeing an increase in HIV infection she said. “What we are seeing is the higher [rates of infection] are in the resort community, significantly higher than some of the more metropolitan areas,” Hamilton said. Knowledge is the best way to stop the spread, experts say. The Red Ribbon Project is offering free HIV testing from 1 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Eagle Care Clinic, located in the Edwards Medical Center, 320 Beard Creek Road. No appointment is necessary, and the testing is confidential, said Paula Palmateer, the group’s chairwoman. According to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, there were 34 people in Eagle County with AIDS and 24 with HIV as of March. But health officials really don’t know exactly how many people in Eagle County are infected, Palmateer said. Part of that is because the population moves around so much; part of it is because health officials believe about one in four people with HIV or AIDS don’t know they have it yet. “A lot of people don’t want to know,” Hamilton said. “A lot of them are really scared. There’s also an increase of HIV because people think that, with the medication out there, that it’s not a death sentence. And it’s not, but it’s much better to stay healthy than to go through that process.”Medication to keep HIV and AIDS patients healthy can run about $1,000 a month. The side effects from those medications can be serious as well. Hamilton, who tests patients for HIV, said she sees a lot of people who come in after a night of unprotected sex, or after they’ve shared needles for drugs. Both of those things puts them at higher risk of contracting HIV. Sometimes, couples come in at the beginning of their relationship, before they have sex. “Basically, because you never know everything about your partner,” she said. Other times she sees women come in after a sexual assault, usually when they chose not to report the assault to police. An HIV test can cost almost $200 at a doctor’s office, Hamilton said. “This is an opportunity for the people at large to make sure they are healthy,” Hamilton said.
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