Across multiple age categories, the rate of HIV infection in Indiana has remained relatively stable for the last five years of data available. However, an increasing number of Hoosiers in their twenties are contracting the virus.
The number of newly-diagnosed, HIV-positive Hoosiers in their twenties saw a nearly 40-percent increase between the years 2010 and 2014, the year in which the most recent data was available. That’s even as the second-most diagnosed group – 30-something Hoosiers – saw an 11-percent decline in the number of new HIV cases in the same period.
The data comes from the Indiana State Department of Health, though department officials declined multiple requests for an interview.
But Jeremy Turner, Director of Development and Communication at the Damian Center, one of the state’s largest AIDS service organizations, says the numbers don’t surprise him.
He says the spike could be a result of increased testing in that demographic. He also says dating and hookup apps could be partially to blame:
"It just provides a whole new avenue where people can more easily connect with other folks and that’s gonna lead to people having more partners which then increase their risk of getting STIS and HIV," Turner says.
Changing attitudes about HIV may also be a culprit. Turner says the disease is now seen more as a chronic condition and less as a death sentence, so people are less likely to be scared into taking preventative measures.
But Turner says just because HIV isn’t the death sentence it once was doesn’t mean it doesn’t severely disrupt lives. He says young people are particularly hit hard by the financial burdens of the disease.
"It can be anywhere from $800 to $18 thousand a month to pay for medications to treat HIV," he says. "That’s really something to consider."
And Rural Center for Aids and STD Prevention Director William Yarber of the says younger adults, who often feel invincible, can be hard to reach.
"One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is to help people understand and integrate into their lifestyle is the fact that certain risk behaviors, no matter who you are, can put you at risk," Yarber says. "A trait of younger people, of course, is they feel less vulnerable, they feel stronger, it's not going to happen to them. But of course, behaviors are the key factor."
He says more emphasis is still needed on education, particularly among males who have sex with other males, who are hit particularly hard by HIV in the 20-29 age bracket. He also says early detection and treatment, which decreases infectability, is key.