BANGOR (AP) – Cases of AIDS and HIV are rising in Maine, according to state health officials.

Mark Griswold, an epidemiologist with the state Bureau of Health, said 33 new cases of HIV were reported between Jan. 1 and July 24 this year. Nineteen new cases were reported in the same period last year, with 39 reported for all of 2002.

There have been 28 new AIDS cases reported so far in 2003, compared with 21 during the same period last year and 42 for the full year.

“The numbers are tiny,” Griswold said, “but it’s still very troubling.”

The increases mark the first time in several years that AIDS and HIV – human immunodeficiency virus, the microbe that causes AIDS – have shown an upward trend.

Increases have been reported elsewhere, especially in big cities, Griswold said. He also noted that a rise in HIV and AIDS cases is often accompanied by increases in other sexually transmitted diseases.

In Maine, cases of gonorrhea have increased from 66 in the first half of 2002 to 123 during the same period in 2003. Chlamydia cases rose from 829 to 1,121. There have been nine syphilis cases so far this year, up from one in the first six months of last year.

Those increases suggest changes in overall sexual behavior, Griswold said, and can be used to project steep increases in HIV and AIDS cases.

Almost all of Maine’s HIV and AIDS cases are attributable to sexual activity between men, he said. A secondary source is the sharing of contaminated needles used to inject drugs.

Griswold and Drew Thomits, supervisor of educational programs for the Eastern Maine AIDS Network in Bangor, attributed the increase to a combination of “prevention fatigue” in older gay and bisexual men, and a lack of awareness in younger men who haven’t seen firsthand the ravages of AIDS.

“People get tired of hearing ‘safe sex’ all the time and never ‘We’ve made great strides and now you don’t have to worry,”‘ Thomits said. “When we didn’t have effective testing and treatments, people saw wasting and death and all the horrible things that happen with this disease.

“Now if they know someone, they may see them healthy, out working – they don’t see how hard it is to live with AIDS.”

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Health says more than 500 people have AIDS in Maine, and another 700 are HIV-positive.

Officials say the numbers have never been higher because people with AIDS and HIV are living longer and healthier lives.

AP-ES-07-30-03 1054EDT

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