Rising teen HIV rate spurs concerns

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LANSING — More Michigan teenagers are becoming infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, health officials warn.

The Department of Community Health released a report for World AIDS Day, saying the rate of new cases among 13- to 19-year-olds in Michigan more than doubled between 2003 and 2007. Among those teens, 85 percent are African-American, and almost 62 percent are African-American males who had sex with other males.

Michigan is following the national trend of increasing HIV diagnoses among teens.

Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., said education and community awareness have to be ongoing and renewed with every new generation.

Kates said the report showed that African-Americans’ behavioral and substance abuse patterns haven’t changed but their sexual networks have a higher prevalence of HIV.

Bridie Bereza, public information officer for the Kent County Health Department, said, “There are a number of reasons for this increase in the state. It’s easier to find partners, people are complacent about getting tested and people tend not to pay attention."

She said some people don’t know they have the virus and are spreading the infection without knowing it. “Kent County is more of an urban area, so we have more people and more cases,” Bereza said.

The county department has an ambassador program, which is “dedicated to social networking and educating young people about all types of diseases, and it’s used to encourage young people to get tested,” she said.

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