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Local Experts Say HIV and AIDS are on the Rise in the Ozarks

Some people peg the Ozarks as being secluded and untouched by so-called big city problems. But local experts say in Springfield, AIDS is on the rise. KSMU's Kristian Kriner reports.

Cases of HIV and AIDS have been on the rise since the first cases were reported in 1981.

Three years ago the number of people with AIDS and HIV in the Ozarks peaked to a new level and those numbers continue to rise.

The AIDS Project of the Ozarks is now serving over 700 people and estimates that there are at least 400 local people who don't know they are infected with HIV.

Lynne Meyerkord is the executive director of the AIDS Project of the Ozarks.

She says the AIDS Project of the Ozarks treats 50 new HIV positive people every year.

"We've seen almost a full 30-40 percent of the new infections we've worked with are somehow linked to IV drug use, whether the individual was a partner, a sexual partner of someone who was using IV drugs or they were using IV drugs themselves and that's a big concern," Meyerkord said.

Meyerkord says more people are being diagnosed with AIDS than HIV because they waited too long to be tested, and now the virus is full-blown.

Local statistics show that most people infected with HIV or AIDS are Caucasian, under 30 years old and live below the poverty line.

Meyerkord says HIV and AIDS crosses economic lines and anyone can become infected.

"I think people have stereotypes about who gets infected and who doesn't and our work has shown that that's not accurate. Anybody who is sexually active can get infected. Anyone that has ever used needles can get infected," Meyerkord said.

She says even if you are in a monogamous relationship, that doesn't mean you're immune to HIV.

"I'd say of the women we work with, we probably work with 125 women and 80 percent of them were infected by someone they believed to be a monogamous partner. We also have men we've worked with that were infected by a woman they believed to be a monogamous partner. So, certainly people aren't always honest about their sexual history and we each have to take responsibility for protecting ourselves and getting ourselves tested," Meyerkord said.

Meyerkord says since it's known how HIV is spread, people ages 13 to 65 should be tested on a regular basis.

She reminds people that it's a preventable disease.

The AIDS Project of the Ozarks is having its 15th Annual AIDSwalk September 20th at Phelps Grove Park.

Registration is at nine am and the two mile walk begins at 10:00 o'clock.

For KSMU News, I'm Kristian Kriner.