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Number of AIDS cases rises 40%

The latest figures on AIDS in Florida show a nearly 40 percent jump in cases since last year, a bleak trend for women, blacks and heterosexuals, and bad news for babies.

Compared with national figures, Florida has greater percentages of females and blacks with acquired immune deficiency syndrome and a greater percentage of cases transmitted through heterosexual contact.

Also, the state is second only to New York in the number of pediatric AIDS cases, according to June 1 figures from the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

Dr. Charles Mahan, Florida's outspoken state health officer, is worried _ and disgusted.

He criticized what he described as "the juvenile way Americans deal with tough sexual problems." He said Florida and the nation need to get serious and pour more money and thought into fighting the AIDS battle.

Mahan said Friday he is going to sit down this weekend and write a letter of apology to Miss America.

Leanza Cornett, a former Miss Florida, has been promoting AIDS awareness during her reign as Miss America. But she was surprised earlier this month when Bradford County school officials told her she couldn't mention AIDS or discuss sex when she visited three elementary schools there.

"I'm going to say, unfortunately, that's the way things are in some parts of Florida," Mahan said.

The newest AIDS figures show that 30,758 cases have been reported statewide since Florida reported its first case in 1981.

That puts Florida in third place in the nation for AIDS cases. As of March 31, New York was No. 1 with 55,154 reported cases, and California was No. 2 with 53,851 reported cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Florida has seen a steep rise in reported cases. In the year that ended May 1, 1993, AIDS cases jumped 38.7 percent, according to HRS.

Part of that increase can be attributed to an expanded definition of AIDS that went into effect in January, said Stephen Kindland, public information coordinator for the HRS AIDS Program Office.

The expanded definition involved adding more diseases to a list of illnesses that can be related to AIDS.

AIDS officials were expecting even worse news. "With the changed definition in January, we were expecting a 100 to 150 percent increase in AIDS cases," said Steve Bardy, assistant AIDS coordinator for the Pasco-Pinellas HRS district.

Bardy said female AIDS cases in Pinellas more closely mirror national percentages. Of the 1,371 reported AIDS cases in Pinellas, 135 were females, or about 10 percent. A larger statewide percentage probably can be attributed to pockets of the state that have higher numbers of female and heterosexual AIDS cases, Bardy said.

About 11 percent of national AIDS cases are females, compared with 17 percent in Florida. The percentage of AIDS cases transmitted through heterosexual contact is 7 percent in the nation, but 18 percent in Florida.

The number of female and heterosexual cases has been rising steadily in Florida for years, Kindland said.

Five years ago, 13 percent of the total AIDS cases in Florida were females, compared with 17 percent now; and 14 percent of the cases were the result of heterosexual contact, compared with 18 percent now.

Part of the problem is that women still aren't insisting that a condom be used during sex, Kindland said.

Also, there seems to be a lack of communication between sexual partners, Mahan said.

Seventy percent of the people who have consented to interviews at public health departments "don't even know their partner has an HIV infection," Mahan said. "Women are always the last to know that they are infected." HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, causes AIDS.

In Florida as well as New York, AIDS rapidly is becoming a heterosexual epidemic, he said. In California, AIDS is still largely confined to the homosexual population, probably because that state has larger numbers of gay men.

The number of pediatric cases in Florida is linked to the female AIDS cases, Mahan said, because infants generally are infected by their mothers.

Florida has 714 pediatric cases, according to the most recent figures. New York has the highest number _ 1,192 pediatric cases as of March 31.

A racial breakdown of AIDS cases also shows Florida with a higher percentage of cases affecting blacks. The percentage of black AIDS cases in the nation is 30 percent; in Florida, the number is 40 percent.

Mahan said Florida is failing to get the message across on AIDS.

"I'm really worried that the kind of public health and media education we've been doing hasn't been effective, and we're missing the boat," Mahan said.

He said he'd like to see money go to psychology and anthropology departments at universities to study ways to change sexual behavior.

"People know the facts of AIDS," Mahan said, "but they aren't changing their behavior."

The facts on AIDS

The latest AIDS figures show a bleak picture for women and minorities in Florida compared with national numbers. The state has a greater percentage of AIDS cases among females and blacks and a larger percentage of cases transmitted through heterosexual contact.

CATEGORY U.S. FLORIDA

Adult cases/male 89% 83%

Adult cases/female 11% 17%

All cases/white 52% 46%

All cases/black 30% 40%

All cases/Hispanic 17% 14%

TRANSMISSION U.S. FLORIDA

Homosexual, bisexual male

contact 56% 50%

Heterosexual contact 7% 18%

Injection, drug user 23% 21%

Florida figures as of May 31, 1993; United States figures as of March 31, 1993

Source: State Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services

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