According to early reports, HIV transmission rates among teens and young adults in Fresno County are at their highest levels in years, outpacing HIV rates in typically highly saturated areas like San Francisco.
Updated information on HIV statistics is periodically released from the Fresno County Department of Public Health to give a snapshot of where the county sits at. Quarterly reports on various HIV statistics are available and provided to the public. That said, 2017’s preliminary results indicate a surge among teens and young adults, which is baffling experts.
Last year, Fresno County officials reported 15 preliminary HIV cases in youths between ages 15 and 19. There were also 31 preliminary cases among young adults between ages of 20 and 24, marking the highest the numbers in the county since 2010. Between 2010 and 2016 county officials reported a smaller number of cases of transmission among adolescents yearly.
It’s alarming to have 15 cases of HIV in the county in 2017. Fresno County is home to less than one million residents total. The spike in teen HIV numbers could be an anomaly this year, but county health officials are concerned.
In 2010, numbers hit an all-time low, and there were only nine infections among reported among youths between the ages of 20 and 24. In 2014, there were 19 new cases, 21 new cases in 2015 and 25 new cases in 2016.
What’s most alarming to scientists, they say, is that Fresno’s HIV statistics among youth is soaring past even San Francisco’s numbers — and frankly, that shouldn’t happen.
"We're actually passing San Francisco now for the number of new infections, which to me is stunning," Dr. Simon Paul, medical director of the Specialty Health Center at Community Regional Medical Center told The Fresno Bee.
Last April, Paul was concerned enough to notify officials at the Fresno County Department of Public Health about his observations of new cases — cases of transmission that have increased since the county closed an HIV clinic in 2010."I guess what tipped it off was when I had a whole bunch of young kids, college kids, coming in with new infections," Paul said. "You get four or five kids in a row and you go, 'Whoa, what's going on? Right? And why is nothing being done?"
What worries doctors like Paul is that HIV rates are increasing, despite having the best medicine and care for HIV that’s ever been available since the virus was identified.
Not everyone agrees, however. Jena Adams, supervising communicable disease specialist at the Fresno County Department of Public Health, explained that Fresno and surrounding areas will never have the infrastructure surrounding HIV care that San Francisco has. In her defense, large cities in coastal California and New York City area have unbeatable HIV treatment programs with seemingly bottomless budgets.
Fresno’s STD clinic has less than $300,000 in HIV funding for the current fiscal year, compared to tens of millions available in larger cities.
Fresno County officials plan on revamping their prevention plan in 2019. The county may even see more funding to cover STD prevention including HIV care. A new clinic, however, will probably not come to fruition any time soon. Locals in the area will remain on their own when it comes to asking their primary care providers about PrEP and other prevention methods.