Health Report: Interior AIDS Association combats uptick in HIV cases

Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 4:35 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - An uptick of HIV cases has been reported in the interior and state of Alaska.

Most new cases being reported are amongst 20 to 30 year-old men who have intimate relations with other men. However, HIV knows no gender, nor age, and anyone can contract the virus.

While there has been a national decrease in cases due to advancements in education, prevention, and medication since the AIDS epidemic in the 1980′s and 90′s, there has been an increase in Alaska and this is cause for curiosity.

“I think for a lot of people is that HIV is not really on the forefront of our minds anymore. It’s kind of ‘that was a thing in the 80′s and 90′s and it’s not really a problem that we’re dealing with anymore’ and that’s not true. So, I think people have a lot of misconceptions about HIV, how its transmitted, how it’s not transmitted, and for a lot of sexual transmitted diseases (STD’s), the most common symptom is no symptoms at all,” says Maya Bowers, Case Manager and Prevention Outreach Specialist for the Interior AIDS Association (IAA).

According to a public health advisory from the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, in January 2022, a time-space HIV-cluster was identified in Fairbanks among military service members in a four-week time period. Later that month, Bassett Army Community Hospital issued a public health alert via Facebook announcing the cases and advocating for people to get tested and seek prevention services.

There has also been a trend of co-infections in the Fairbanks and interior region, seeing Chlamydia and Gonorrhea diagnosed among 73 percent of newly diagnosed cases of HIV.

These statistics might be alarming and cause some to think, “how can I be proactive?”

First and foremost, it’s recommended to test regularly, at the very least once a year, and always use proper protection with every new sexual partner. Additionally, communication on STD and testing status should be practiced as well. There is also a medication on the market called PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, that comes in pill or injectable form. With a 99 percent effectiveness rate, PrEP prevents you from contracting HIV if you’ve come into contact with it.

IAA offers a wide range of resources for our community including free 20 or 1 minute rapid HIV tests, which offer a 99 percent accuracy rate, free sexual health supplies, and care connection for those who live with HIV. That connection includes referral to resources, rides to appointments, and more. Expanding efforts statewide, IAA can also mail rapid HIV testing kits anywhere in Alaska at no cost to the recipient. The package will be in a discreet package, as well.

Today, June 27, is National HIV Testing Day. IAA hosted two events, one located at The Breadline off Gaffney Road. and another at the IAA office off 710 3rd Avenue. Lunch was provided for participants, while supplies lasted, and they had the chance to enter a “Day-on-the-town” giveaway basket complete with gift cards and goods from local businesses and restaurants.