Health-Dept-logoThis is World AIDS Day and after years of gradual increases, the number of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in Iowa is on the decline, but officials say the numbers are still inconclusive. Randy Mayer, chief of the bureau on HIV, STD and Hepatitis at the Iowa Department of Public Health, says only about one-third of Iowans have been tested for HIV.

“That ranks us about 46th among the 50 states in getting people tested,” Mayer says. “Our push is really on getting people to understand they should be tested at least once for HIV, but also medical providers, to start testing their patients and get everybody one test at one point in their lives.” Mayer says Iowa had 122 diagnoses statewide last year and the preliminary numbers show the 2014 total will drop.

“It does look like our numbers, our diagnoses will be down about 10% this year,” Mayer says. “That happened one other year, back in 2008 and we saw a dip of about that size, but then it recovered the next year. While it’s encouraging to see that the numbers seem to be going down, we’re not ready to say that it’s a trend yet.”

The perception used to be, years ago, that if someone was diagnosed as HIV-positive, it was essentially a death sentence. Mayer says that’s, by no means, accurate today. “We have really good treatments now with few side effects and there are fewer pills to take,” Mayer says. “If we can get people tested early and into treatment, HIV doesn’t need to shorten anyone’s life at all. Life expectancy with HIV is about the same as life expectancy without HIV, as long as you get into treatment early.” Mayer says everyone, regardless of risk, should get tested.

“All sexually active adults, anyone over age 18, should be tested at least once,” Mayer says. “We’re asking people, next time you go to your doctor, would you just ask, ‘Have I ever had an HIV test, and if not, would you do one, please?'” With the Affordable Care Act, he says there should be no charge and no copay for an HIV test.

There are around 2,100 people living with HIV and AIDS in Iowa, and Mayer says the prevalence has been predictable across the state. He says about 75 percent of the people diagnosed happen in ten different Iowa metro areas, with about 25 percent in rural areas. As of last year, AIDS had killed more than 36-million people worldwide, while an estimated 35-million are living with HIV.