Saturday, September 16, 2006

HIV on the metro

A rather chilling poster decorated the insides of our metro trains this spring, carrying the following message:

For every 20 people aboard this train, one is infected with HIV.

That's the language I remember, anyway; I can’t currently seem to find a copy of it. The poster's purpose being to shock and scare, that’s exactly what it did. I remember one evening riding home from work, seeing the poster, and thinking that there must have been several hundred people on the train, perhaps a few dozen of whom carried the virus.

Of course, it obviously wasn’t true. The author would have used DC HIV infection rates, ignoring that most metro riders live outside of the city. But just how close to the truth was it? From the never-ending stream of HIV infected patients at the different hospitals where I work, I knew there must have been some basis for the claim, but do we really have an HIV epidemic in DC of African proportions?

According to the DC Department of Health,

As of December 31, 2004, the reported prevalence of HIV (not AIDS) in the District of Columbia was 17,205 cases. Of that total, 81.7% was African American, 14.6% was White,3.2% was Hispanic, and less than 1% was Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian, whereas 70.1% was male, and 29.9% was female.

Considering there were 572,059 people living in DC, that makes a prevalence of 3.01%. The Department of Health estimates that up to 25,000 people (4.4%) may actually carry the disease. Round that up to 5% and there’s your poster.

How does DC compare to other states? Not very well. For persons living with AIDS, DC leads all other states with 1.906 per 100 people, over 4 times higher than New York, the next closest state. To be fair though, let's look at how Washington compares to other cities. These are the 5 metropolitan areas with the highest yearly AIDS incidence (newly diagnosed disease) per 100,000 people (2004 numbers):

1. New York 56.7
2. Washington DC 40.3
3. San Francisco 33.5
4. Orlando 31.2
5. Tampa 25.7

DC’s got HIV, and it's got it bad. Even if posters like the one on the metro exaggerate the threat, I’m glad to see someone’s doing something about it.