HIV In Florida

The Associated Press

The Florida Department of Health says its dramatic drop in the number of new cases of HIV can be attributed to duplicate cases and changes to the way they are counted, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Four days a week, public health nurse Brittany Combs drives her SUV around the small town of Austin, Indiana, handing out clean needles to injection drug users and talking to people about going to rehab.

It’s a task that can be rewarding—when one of her customers finally wants help to get off drugs—and a bit agonizing, because there’s often not a rehab bed ready for them.


For decades, Cassandra Steptoe felt like she couldn't talk about her HIV diagnosis with anyone.

"I couldn't forgive myself for getting HIV," says Steptoe, who spent much of her early adult life in and out of jail for shoplifting and burglaries linked to her IV drug use. "But someone told me a long time ago, if you are looking for a reason to feel shame, you can always find it. I learned to look for something else: forgiveness."

New cases of the virus that causes AIDS are becoming less frequent throughout the United States.

But not in Florida.

Statewide, HIV infections have been increasing in recent years, with Miami-Dade and Broward counties topping the list. But a new law might help stem the tide of those new cases. For the first time, Florida has a needle-exchange program for intravenous drug users.

The Florida Department of Health has lowered the number of people who caught HIV in Florida.

That’s according to a story in the Tampa Bay Times. Florida previously had the most new HIV infections of any state. But officials revised the stats, removing more than 1,500 cases and making Florida third in the country for new HIV infections.

The Florida Department of Health is pushing back against the Tampa Bay Times for criticizing a revision in the number of the new HIV cases in the state.

Florida Surgeon General Responds To HIV Criticism, Staff Cuts

Feb 8, 2016
Florida Department of Health

State Surgeon General John Armstrong, who heads the Florida Department of Health, has faced scrutiny from lawmakers recently on a number of high-profile issues. The issues include the state's rising HIV rate, cuts to county health departments and 9,000 kids who lost places in the Children's Medical Services program --- which serves youngsters with "serious and chronic" conditions --- under a new eligibility screening process last year.

Thirty years ago, a HIV-positive diagnosis was a death sentence, and gay men and IV-drug users were most likely to get infected.

Today, the demographics of infection have changed a lot, and advancements in drug treatment that make HIV a "chronic disease" have created a new set of problems.

WUSF’s Florida Matters is sharing stories from the Health New Florida series HIV in Florida: The Rising Tide of Infection. 

Wikimedia Commons

The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it will now allow gay men to donate blood, but there's a catch.

Today is World AIDS Day, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida is first in the nation when it comes to newly diagnosed cases of HIV--the virus that can lead to AIDS.

Study Finds Marketplace Silver Plans Offer Poor Access To HIV Drugs

Nov 16, 2015
WMFE

In most states, consumers with HIV or AIDS who buy silver-level plans on the insurance marketplaces find limited coverage of common drug regimens they may need and high out-of-pocket costs, according to a new analysis.

Abe Aboraya / Health News Florida

  Jesse Dixon is walking the streets of Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood, armed with backpacks stuffed with Ziploc bags of condoms.

In 2013, Florida had more new cases of HIV than anywhere else in the nation. When it comes to the presence of HIV in Florida, the state’s six largest metropolitan areas could be states unto themselves.

Indiana was hit with an outbreak of HIV/AIDS this spring, and it got a lot of attention because it is so exceptional.

Our perception of HIV/AIDS has changed since the disease emerged in the early 1980s. There are all kinds of treatments and resources — things that simply didn't exist when the epidemic began.

You can join us and be a part of our audience for a special Florida Matters town hall on the rising tide of HIV infection in Florida. 

WMFE

President Barack Obama is unveiling an updated national strategy Thursday to combat the HIV and AIDS epidemic that could have a big impact in Florida, which leads the nation in new HIV infections.

The White House unveiled the first national HIV plan in 2010, with ambitious, measurable goals: reduce new HIV diagnoses, increase the number of youth with an undetectable HIV viral load, and reduce the death rate from AIDS.

There’s been positive progress on all those, and there’s been a drop in the number of women, heterosexuals and IV-drug users contracting the disease.

WMFE

A new Florida law kicking in today makes getting an HIV test easier. Doctors no longer need written consent to give patients an HIV test in health care settings, like doctor’s offices and hospitals.

The law could have a big impact in Florida, which has more new HIV infections than anywhere else in the country.

Jesse Fry is a policy analyst with the AIDS Institute in Tallahassee. He said an estimated 18,000 Floridians have HIV and don’t know they have the virus, according to the institute. 

MGN Online

Florida insurance regulators will start reviewing health plans for discriminatory practices after three insurers were accused of charging higher prices for HIV drugs.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation announced it will review 2016 plans available on HealthCare.gov in Florida for possible discriminatory practices in their coverage of all prescription medications, and will also limit patient cost-sharing of HIV medications to reasonable co-pays.

Abe Aboraya / Health News Florida

Will Blair can describe his family in three words: southern, conservative, Baptist. 

“I’m kind of the black sheep,” he said.

Blair was 17 and living in rural Lake County when he came out as gay to the grandparents raising him.

Last year, at 32, he had to come out a second time: as HIV positive.

“It’s hard dealing with letting the people close to you know,” Blair said. “Because some people, even the ones close to you, even though they’re talking to you and you hear the words coming out their mouth, you know that behind what they’re saying is judgment.”

Saturday is National HIV Testing Day. In the lead up, groups across Florida are offering free tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

  Many Florida Department of Health offices are conducting simple blood tests for HIV and syphilis.

Nadege Green / Health News Florida

Charles Williams is sitting at a table with two of the young men he mentors. They get together at least twice a week.

On this day, they’re talking about sex. More specifically,  about protection.

“In the heat of the moment sometimes, a guy doesn't necessarily reach for a condom,” Williams tells Dwayne Jackson, 14, and Traivon Harris, 15. 

The boys get bashful and chuckle at William’s blunt delivery.

But Williams said he has to talk this way about safe sex with his young men. Many young, heterosexual black men don’t consider themselves at risk for HIV/AIDS.

Nadege Green / Health News Florida

Poison Ivy came out as a transgender woman to her family in January.

Her grandmother kicked her out of the house. 

“She didn’t want to see me transitioning,” said Poison Ivy, who asked that her real name not be used. “It’s just so hard for her to notice that her grandson, someone that has loved her for a long time is becoming a woman.”

So Poison Ivy moved in with friends. Some of them don’t know what the 18-year-old does for a living.

USF Health

Thirty years ago, a HIV-positive diagnosis was a death sentence, and gay men and IV-drug users were most likely to get infected.

Today, the demographics of infection have changed a lot, and advancements in drug treatment that make HIV a "chronic disease" have created a new set of problems.

WUSF’s Florida Matters is sharing stories from the Health New Florida series HIV in Florida: The Rising Tide of Infection.  

Abe Aboraya / Health News Florida

Each year in Jacksonville, a nonprofit called JASMYN hosts a prom for LGBT youth.

Kourtnee Armanii Davinnie was crowned this year’s prom queen. She’s scared of horses, but loves unicorns. And she sometimes snaps when she talks.

Davinnie holds up a selfie taken in one of her multiple prom dresses.

“I had a couple outfit changes,” Davinnie said. “My performance outift, my walk-around, my entrance outfit, I have to be on point for prom. That’s just one of those things for a showgirl.”

Lisann Ramos / Health News Florida

If you're talking about older people and sex, you have to talk to Kate GeMeiner.

"I'm also known as Doctor Truth, the Condom Lady," the 85-year-old says.

GeMeiner lives in Broward County, and spends a lot of her time at senior centers, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

"And I ask the seniors: How old do you think you are when you stop thinking about sex? And they all say, when you're dead,” she says with a laugh. “Or they'll say things like when the casket is closed or something like that."

Everyone thinks HIV happens to someone else.

It only infects men who are having sex with men, they say. Or HIV drug users.

And while that still accounts for about half of all people infected, those who are being diagnosed with this serious sexually transmitted disease don’t fall into simple categories. They’re young and old, straight, gay and transgender, of every race.

In 2013, Florida had the highest number of newly diagnosed HIV case rates in the nation.

All six of the large metropolitan areas in Florida -- including Tampa, Orlando and Miami-Dade -- reported more cases of HIV diagnosis than many states as a whole. If Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach were a state, it would rank fifth nationally in the number of new cases.