What you don’t know might kill you

What you don’t know might kill you

HIV/AIDS epidemic taking heavy toll on the South, including east Texas


It could be your mother, brother, sister, neighbor or child – it’s the face of HIV/AIDS, and statistics show America’s saturation of persons living with the virus is on par with that of Third-World nations such as Uganda and Zimbabwe, somewhere around 1.2 million. Alarming still for Southeast Texans is that the concentration is greater along oastal America, with southern states accounting for nearly half of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses annually, according to the Center for Disease Control. In Texas alone, more than 4,000 new diagnoses have been added every year for the last decade.

Beaumont, the 25th largest city in Texas, had the seventh highest number of new HIV/AIDS infections diagnosed in the state for 2011. Just an hour away in Houston, HIV/AIDS infection cases are skyrocketing, with more than 1,300 added in the first nine months of 2011. Barring a cure in the near future, Triangle AIDS Network (TAN) prevention specialist Lois Roy only sees those numbers gaining momentum in the years to come.

“The numbers are staggering,” Roy said, looking over Texas Department of Health reports covering HIV/AIDS in Jefferson County. “A lot of people don’t know a lot about HIV – or are not willing to learn. Everybody wants to have sex, but nobody wants to talk about sex. That’s why we’re adding new HIV/AIDS patients at a staggering rate.”

Roy’s mission is to educate the public about the real danger facing anyone having sex in Southeast Texas. But it is a mission she has a hard time trying to fulfill, she said.

“It’s not cool to talk about HIV. To talk about HIV, we have to talk about sex.

“Because we live in the ‘Bible Belt,’ no one wants to even hear about it, much less talk about it,” she said. “Sometimes, churches or offices let us come talk to a group, but none of the schools will let us in. I don’t know why no one cares; this is killing people every day.”

Roy estimates about 100 new HIV/AIDS patients receive Beaumont-based TAN’s assistance every year, but that number is only a fraction of the persons diagnosed with the virus.

“I can’t tell you how many people come in and get tested (positive for HIV/AIDS) and then never come back – but it is an enormous amount,” she said. “It’s hard to get some people to come and get our free services just because they don’t want anyone to know that they have (HIV/AIDS). There’s a real stigma attached to being HIV-positive in the South, and they’d rather spread the disease than to be ostracized.”