MURPHYSBORO, Ill. - HIV cases in southern Illinois reached the highest number in nearly a decade last year, with more than half the infections from the virus that causes AIDS reported in people 24 years old or younger, public health officials said.
Complacency in public education about the virus was cited as the main reason for the increase, according to officials.
The Southern Illinois HIV Care Connect office in Jackson County's health department, which tracks the data in 19 counties, said the region stretching from Mount Vernon to Cairo has averaged 14 to 15 new HIV cases a year. But that number jumped to 21 in 2012 and to 23 last year.
Given the prevalence of the disease among teenagers and young adults, Dr. Erica Kaufman - Southern Illinois Healthcare's infectious diseases specialist - said she believes "we are in a time when a lot of young people don't know about HIV."
"People know a bit about HIV, but they don't know the devastation of it," Kaufman said. "They don't know that it changes their lives."
Tony Wyatt, 56, of Murphysboro has lived with HIV since 1994, said his outreach through Southern Illinois HIV Care Connect often has fallen on deaf ears in recent years.