TRAVERSE CITY — HIV cases in Northern Michigan have risen 214% since 2019, which has led local health departments and local clinics to try to raise awareness and stop the spread.
Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missuakee and Wexford counties saw a total of 44 new diagnoses from 2019 to 2023 compared to just 14 from 2014 to 2018.
Melissa Hahn, director of Family Health for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, said, “We’re still in an area that doesn’t see a super large amount of HIV, but there’s enough that it’s making us take notice that something is wrong.”
Typically, HIV is less common in rural areas, usually showing up in cities, with many of those diagnosed under the age of 30 and part of the LGBTQ community. However, the Thomas Judd Care Center in Traverse City said over the past four years they’ve actually seen more heterosexual couples than anything.
“Our cases tend to almost be exclusively 30 and above and most of them being 40 and above. They’re generally white and they’re both male and female. So, it’s not the typical groups,” explained Shawn Kintigh a clinical nurse practitioner at the clinic.
Kintigh said they’ve even been administering HIV tests to the homeless every week but haven’t had anyone come back positive.
Neither the clinic nor the health department know exactly why there’s been such a rise. They guessed a lack of education and more people in the area may be playing a role.
“As a teenager it’s not as much being talked about in school every day like it was when the AIDS epidemic first started. So, I think people just aren’t thinking about it nearly as much as they were previously,” Hahn stated.
Many of the people who have recently tested positive over the past four years, didn’t get tested until they were stage three, which can be deadly. Kintigh explained part of the reason for that is because people simply didn’t know.
People who have contracted HIV will have flu like symptoms, including a fever and maybe a rash, but after a week or two those symptoms could fade and not reemerge for another five to 10 years.
Both the Thomas Judd Care Center in Traverse City and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan say no matter who you are, if you’re between the ages of 13 and 65 to get tested and be educated about safe practices.
“Don’t just assume that you don’t need that testing. Take it when you can because it’s no longer this death sentence that it was. The sooner you can find out if you do have this infection, the better treatment is,” Hahn said.
The Thomas Judd Care Center has free HIV tests and will be hosting a panel discussion Friday, Dec. 1 on World AIDS Day to educate the community and raise awareness.