A conversation about HIV/AIDS in Omaha

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November 9th, 2010

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Omaha, NE – While a sexually transmitted disease epidemic continues in Douglas County, and does not appear to be going away, doctors are also concerned about HIV and AIDS, and how those diseases disproportionately impact minorities in Omaha.

HIV and AIDS are not at epidemic levels in Douglas County or Nebraska. The state has about 2,000 cases, according to Doctor Susan Swindells, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. But the rate of infection is concentrated in urban areas, and minorities are vastly over-represented. Swindells said 40% of her patients are minorities, and education efforts to control the spread of the disease haven’t always worked.

“A lot of people are much better educated about HIV than they used to be, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into changing behavior,” she said. “So people are still being infected with it, even though they know what they should and shouldn’t be doing.”

Swindells said most people are aware of how HIV and AIDS are contracted, and that there’s no danger of infection by simple contact with a person who has the disease. But, she said, myths about HIV and AIDS do continue.

“I think sometimes it’s tangled up with other opinions about people that have HIV,” she said.  “It’s a disease that has a lot of stigma attached to it, and so I think there can sometimes be disapproval…people say I don’t want to work with someone who has HIV, and maybe use risk of infection as an excuse.”

Swindells said there are effective treatments that allow HIV and AIDS patients to live long, productive lives. Some though are expensive, she said, and out of reach. Swindells hosted a conversation about the disease at UNMC’s Science Café at the Slowdown in Omaha Tuesday, Nov. 9, which she hoped would be an open dialogue, where people can freely ask questions about the illness.

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