Tuesday, Oct. 31

2006 HIV/AIDS status in Illinois: 30,408 known infected          Send a link to a friend

HIV/STD Conference offers the latest in prevention, research and medicine

African-Americans and men who have sex with men affected most

[OCT. 31, 2006]  SPRINGFIELD -- Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, and actress and advocate Gloria Reuben ("ER," "Time Cop," "Nick of Time") kicked off the 15th annual HIV/STD Conference on Tuesday morning at the Hilton Springfield Hotel. The theme is "15 Years of Creating Partnerships and Inspiring Hope." Approximately 600 health care professionals, counselors, public health officials and social workers are expected to attend the three-day conference. The gathering gives participants an opportunity to network, share ideas to enhance their work and gain further knowledge about human immunodeficiency virus and sexually transmitted diseases. The conference is sponsored by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Public Health Association.

"HIV/AIDS continues to have the greatest impact on men who have sex with men, with African-Americans being the most disproportionately affected," Whitaker said. "Numerous gains have been made in HIV/AIDS treatments, but there are still advancements we need to work toward. This year's conference will review all of these issues to help prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS and STDs."

This year's conference speakers include Dr. Mervyn Silverman, former president and spokesman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and current chairman of its Global Initiatives Committee; Dr. Kurt Organista, who researches HIV/AIDS prevention with Mexican and Latino migrant laborers; Dr. Thomas Farley, who has researched and published articles on prevention of HIV and STDs; Pernessa Seele, founder and chief executive officer of The Balm in Gilead Inc., an organization that addresses life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS; and Todd Ahlbery, creator of "Meth," a documentary film illuminating the crystal methamphetamine culture within the gay community.

"This conference brings together the state's top public health professionals and front-line staff fighting HIV/AIDS every day in communities across our state," said Mark Ishaug, executive director of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. "HIV prevention and care is a rapidly evolving field; these learning opportunities ensure we stay focused and current on the best strategies to curb this epidemic."  

Conference topics include:

  • "Rural MSM" (men who have sex with men)

  • "Labor Migration and STD/HIV/AIDS: Thinking Globally and Acting Locally"

  • "State of Emergency in the Black MSM Community"

  • "Sexuality, Social Norms and STD Prevention"

  • "Bisexuality: The Trends Among Teens"

  • "Crystal Methamphetamines"

  • "Preventing Chlamydia and Gonorrhea Re-infections: Medical and Social Strategies"

  • "Aging with HIV"

  • "HIV and Women's Health"

  • "Syphilis Transmission, Staging, Treatment, Complications and Co-infection with HIV"

During 2005, a total of 50,559 cases of chlamydia were reported in Illinois, making it the most frequently reported infectious disease. Females accounted for 75 percent (37,672 of 50,559) of reported cases, and adolescents 15 to 19 years of age were disproportionately affected, accounting for 34 percent (17,294 of 50,559) of all reported cases. The Department of Public Health encourages health care providers to test all sexually active females 15 to 24 years of age at least annually for chlamydia. In collaboration with school-based health centers, family planning clinics, adult and juvenile correctional centers, and other agencies serving females at increased risk for chlamydia infection, the Department of Public Health performed more than 220,000 tests for chlamydia in order to halt disease transmission by identifying and treating infected people.

The Department of Public Health ensures STD diagnostic and treatment services are accessible throughout Illinois; monitors and responds to sexually transmitted disease trends, ensuring that people infected with STDs receive appropriate treatment, counseling and referral; conducts screening programs; provides funds to prevent and contain STDs through innovative community-based initiatives, such as the Champaign-Urbana Health Department's mobile health vans and the Howard Brown Health Center's outreach testing and education services in suburban Cook County; provides vaccinations for hepatitis A and B to people attending STD clinics; and provides technical assistance and training to health care providers regarding STD testing, treatment and follow-up.

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There has been a recent rise in syphilis cases in Illinois, especially in the Chicago area. The increase in infectious syphilis is disproportionately affecting males. Men account for 91 percent of all syphilis reported cases last year, and men self-reporting as men who have sex with men represent 76 percent of all cases among males.

"I am very concerned about this increase in syphilis because untreated syphilis can lead to serious long-term complications and death," Whitaker said. "Also, persons infected with infectious syphilis can more easily acquire or transmit the HIV. During 2005, 52 percent of cases of infectious syphilis among men who have sex with men were co-infected with HIV. Persons infected with both syphilis and HIV also are more likely to develop complications from their syphilis and HIV infection. IDPH recommends all sexually active persons infected with HIV should be tested for syphilis and other STDs at least annually."

As of August 2006, there were 30,408 people in Illinois living with HIV/AIDS: 14,878 with HIV and 15,530 with AIDS.

Currently in Illinois the highest mode of transmission of HIV/AIDS is men who have sex with men. African-Americans remain the ethnic group most affected by HIV/AIDS.

To address the increase of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community and decrease the racial disparity, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich launched the Brothers And Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS campaign on Sept. 15, 2005. BASUAH focuses on education, prevention and testing, and it targets African-Americans to specifically address the increase in HIV/AIDS cases reported within that community.

One element of BASUAH is the Wellness on Wheels mobile health van. Over the last year the van has stopped in 57 locations across the state. Visitors to the Wellness van can receive health screenings, including HIV, hepatitis B and C, and prostate screenings as well as blood pressure and cholesterol tests. People visiting the van receive their HIV testing results within half an hour because of HIV/AIDS rapid testing rules the state adopted on Feb. 3. Approximately 2,300 HIV tests have been administered in the Wellness van, with additional tests being performed at outside locations.

The state has also worked with African-American churches and their youth ministries to establish peer networks that encourage HIV testing as part of the BASUAH campaign. Approximately 70 congregations have distributed BASUAH literature.

Programs targeting communities of color, which include African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians, are a top priority of the state's HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. For fiscal 2007, the governor has budgeted $3.2 million for AIDS prevention through the Department of Public Health's Centers for Minority Health Services.

Blagojevich boosted funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program by $2.5 million in fiscal 2007, to a total of $41 million, in order to allow more people with HIV or AIDS who meet eligibility requirements to be served and to increase access to life-sustaining medicines.

Blagojevich also signed House Bill 4302, sponsored by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, which adds HIV/AIDS to the list of diseases covered under the Illinois Cares Rx program. The program provides prescription drug assistance to low-income seniors and people with disabilities who have certain illnesses or conditions.

For more information, call the Illinois HIV/AIDS and STD toll-free line, 1-800-243-2437, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m., and weekends, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; or visit http://www.idph.state.il.us/.

[Illinois Department of Public Health news release]

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