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Hampton Roads has some of the highest STD rates in nation

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Hampton Roads has some of the highest sexually transmitted disease rates in the nation.

It had the second-highest rate of chlamydia cases among U.S. metropolitan areas and third-highest rate of gonorrhea cases, according to a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eastern Virginia has the highest percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS in the state.

"We have a significant local epidemic," said Dr. Edward Oldfield, director of Eastern Virginia Medical School's infectious disease division.

That means people here are at a higher risk of infection — that engaging in unprotected sex is riskier here than it is in other parts of the country, Oldfield said. Once an infectious disease gets into a community, it spreads more easily here than it would elsewhere.

Oldfield, who's director of nine HIV clinics in Hampton Roads, says they see one newly diagnosed person a day on average. They're treating about 2,000 people at clinics in Williamsburg, Gloucester County, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake.

Who's at risk?

More black Virginians than whites were diagnosed with HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, the four sexually transmitted diseases tracked by the Virginia Department of Health. Black residents made up about 62 percent of the HIV diagnoses in 2009. Between 2005 and 2009, black residents made up 63 percent of syphilis diagnoses, 76 percent of gonorrhea diagnoses and 55 percent of chlamydia diagnoses, according to the state health department.

Newport News tied with Virginia Beach for the third-highest percentage of diagnosed cases of chlamydia in the state between 2005 and 2009, at 7 percent. Norfolk had the highest at 9 percent.

Norfolk had the second-highest percentage of gonorrhea diagnoses in the state in 2009 at 11 percent, followed by Newport News at 8 percent.

The number of people diagnosed with syphilis in Virginia has increased every year since 2005, hitting 547 in 2009. Norfolk, at 12 percent, is tied with Richmond for the highest percentage of people diagnosed with syphilis in the state between 2005 and 2009. About 5 percent of the state's cases were in Newport News.

About 10 percent of the people infected with HIV or AIDS in the state live in Norfolk, making it the city or county with the second-highest percentage of people living with HIV or AIDS in the state, according to 2010 health department figures, which were released last month.

About 4 percent live in Newport News and about 3 percent in Hampton.

The most common demographic being diagnosed with HIV is young black men who have sex with men, Oldfield said.

Black men ages 13 to 24 who have sex with men have had a 93 percent incrase in HIV diagnoses between 2001 and 2006, he said.

Unprotected receptive anal intercourse is riskier than a needlestick with blood from an HIV-infected person, he said.

"It's a very, very risky behavior, and I don't think people know that," he said. "It's much higher risk than vaginal intercourse."

Circumcised men have a much lower risk of acquiring HIV, he said.

AIDS turns 30

It has been 30 years since AIDS was first recognized in 1981. Treatments have come a long way. The "cocktail" of drugs once needed to treat HIV is now just a pill a day for most people, Oldfield said.

dailypress.com

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