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Florida Leads Nation In New HIV Cases

A red and orange realistic computer model of a round HIV molecule.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC's HIV surveillance report covers data collected from 2015 to 2019. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties were identified as particular areas of concern nationally.

The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Florida is leading the nation in the number of new HIV infections, and has the third highest rate of infection, behind the District of Columbia and Georgia.

Florida identified 4,584 new HIV diagnoses, according to the most recent data available from the federal agency’s HIV surveillance report, which collected data from 2015 to 2019.

The CDC estimates that this accounts for only 86.5% of all people with HIV in Florida.

Susan Finkelstein is a registered nurse and medical education services manager for EPIC Sexual Health Center in St. Petersburg.

She says part of the reason infections are so high is because HIV isn't the death sentence it used to be. HIV can be managed long term with medication, but it can still be transmitted via unprotected sex or by sharing needles.

"When people saw it as a fearful thing, because it was a life-threatening disease, they tended to be a little bit more cautious,” Finkelstein said. “Now, it's kind of like, I'll just go take a pill every day. And so why do I have to be careful?"

Finkelstein also attributes the higher rates to abstinence-only education in Florida’s public schools, a requirement tied to funding.

According to the Florida Department of Health, as of 2019, there are 116,689 Floridians diagnosed with the infection.

An estimated 1.2 million people have HIV in the U.S. About 1 in 7 of them don’t know they have the virus.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties were listed as among 48 “areas of concern” nationally based on infection rates. Hillsborough reported 285 HIV cases in 2019, and Pinellas reported 196.

It’s hard to say what these numbers will look like the next time the report comes out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"A lot of the testing sites shut down,” Finkelstein said. “A lot of the outreach dried up, and a lot of the disease intervention specialists from the health department, etc. were focusing on COVID. They weren't focusing on (sexually transmitted infections) and HIV."

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I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.