HIV infections rising in the Panhandle

HIV infections rising in the Panhandle
Michael Timcisko, Executive Director of PASO
Michael Timcisko, Executive Director of PASO

Amarillo, TX - The number of people infected with HIV in the Panhandle is growing and lack of knowledge about the issue might be to blame.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly why the number of people getting infected with HIV is growing, but there are some thing we can do as a community to bring the issue back into the spotlight.

Back in the early '90s, the aids virus was distinguished as deadly and rampant. However, with advance medicine and technology, today the virus is 100 percent treatable.

But now, HIV has become an issue that hasn't been passed down through the generations as much as it should, resulting in a younger demographic contracting it.

"Right now, PASO, the Panhandle Aids Support Organization is serving the largest client based that we've ever had in our 28-year-history," Michael Timcisko, Executive Director of PASO, said. "As far as the disease itself and new infections, we are definitely seeing an increase in the infection rates in people under the age of 25."

This isn't only happening in the area, but throughout the nation as well.

"I think a lot of that is because there is not a lot of focus on HIV prevention and education anymore. I think that young people really view HIV infection as an older person's disease and they just don't feel like they're at risk for HIV infection."

According to the Public Health Department, this is not the case, and it's not just unprotected sex we should be worried about.

In fact, needle sharing is the number one cause of aids to date, unprotected sex is second.

The best advice Timcisko can give is to get tested, something he said should be considered shameless and possibly live saving.

The Public Health Department has been given a grant by the state to conduct these tests for free and has since seen positive results.

"We have had an increased interest in being tested, which is a good thing," Casie Stoughton, Director of the Public Health Department, said. "The best way that you can protect yourself and your partners is to know your status. And you can't know your status unless you are tested. And so we are very excited to see more interest in testing, so that if we do identify a positive, we can link them to care and they can lead a happy healthy life."

Tests will begin this Thursday, June 25 from 3-7 p.m. and Saturday, June 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be held at the Walgreens on 801 N. Fillmore.

All tests are confidential and results take as little to 60 seconds to get back.