U HIV infection rate low and steady despite state trend

Sam Kean

Despite a rise in HIV infections in Minnesota, Boynton health officials estimated last Wednesday that the rate of student HIV infections has remained steady for a number of years at around one infection per 500 students – a rate smaller than that of the U.S. population.

The University has not mirrored Minnesota’s overall trend, where new HIV cases dropped each year between 1994 and 1999 but began creeping back up in 2000 and 2001. According to a state Department of Health report, there were 234 new HIV infections discovered last year in Minnesota.

No one is sure why the rate of infection on college campuses seems to be steady, but officials did offer possible explanations.

Boynton public health officer Dave Golden said higher education levels and lower rates of intravenous drug use among college students may be contributing factors.

Perhaps more importantly, HIV infection rates are highest among minorities and the poor – populations of which the University has limited numbers.

Still, pinning down the actual number of HIV-positive cases on a college campus is not an easy matter. The one-in-500 statistic is probably as good a number as can be expected without a more thorough study, said School of Public Health professor Jim Rothenberger.

The number of students who receive testing at other sites might mean the actual rate is higher, Rothenberger said, especially on an urban campus like the University. This figure only accounts for people who have been tested.

But because new cases are so rare at Boynton, officials there said they feel the number of HIV-infected students has remained constant.

Laboratory supervisor Jan Kukowski said Boynton screened around 1500 blood samples for HIV last year and found no positive results.

Twenty years

Although no one knows when the first person died from AIDS-related causes, June 5 marks the 20th anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control’s first report on AIDS.

The disease was first thought to affect mainly homosexual males, but it is now known that
transmission of HIV can result from heterosexual sex, blood transfusions, IV drug use and other exchanges of bodily fluids.

There are an estimated 900,000 known North American AIDS/HIV cases compared to an international total of over 34 million.

 

Sam Kean covers University research and encourages comments at [email protected]