Washtenaw County recently reported a total of 33 new HIV cases for 2013, increasing reported cases by 37 percent since 2012. With seven more cases than 2012, Washtenaw County experienced the largest number of new infections since 1999. Similar to historical statistics, men who have sex with men, or MSM, still comprise the majority of new infections at 80 percent in the county. However, the number of new cases among young adults and African Americans MSM are rising rapidly. In order to decrease the number of new infections, the county, state and national governments must work to emphasis the severity of the disease to younger and more racially diverse audiences.

Washtenaw County’s increase in positive cases mirrors trends in Southeast Michigan and the United States as a whole. While a 37-percent increase in cases in Washtenaw County is dangerous by itself, the spike also has the potential to set a deadly precedent within the next few years. Since people contract HIV through other humans, having more uneducated or unaware citizens causes a harmful domino effect.

When HIV was first discovered in 1981, several grassroots organizations — and eventually the federal government — began movements to educate the public and raise awareness about the disease. Unfortunately, with the continued development and effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs used to combat HIV, awareness and education towards the youth has tapered off. Given the disconnect between the severity of the disease witnessed when it was first discovered and the demographics of recently transmitted cases, creating a new campaign targeted at younger and more diverse audiences is a necessary step in decreasing the number of newly infected patients.

The predominant way to stop this hazardous cycle is through raising awareness and educating others on HIV prevention. This task, however, proves difficult given teenagers and young adult’s disaffiliation with the HIV/AIDS movement. About one-third of new HIV cases in Washtenaw County are those between the ages of 15 and 24. Similarly, in 2013, the Center for Disease Control reported that young, Black MSM is the demographic most seriously affected by the HIV/AIDs epidemic with 55 percent of all new infections among young MSM.

A higher number of youth and minority race infections disproves the notion that HIV is a disease of the past. However, those under 30 often believe that contracting HIV isn’t a realistic possibility. This incorrect perception likely contributes to the infection spike with those under 30. Millennials must receive comprehensive and resilient education about effective methods for preventing HIV infection and the detrimental effects it has on its victims. By heavily engaging youth, minority races, MSM and other severely affected demographics, we can work toward eradicating HIV from the nation’s population.

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