HIV/AIDS Risk Data Withheld

No one will ever do the research, because it could unveil some of the harm caused by political correctness. That will leave us wondering: How many West Virginians with HIV and/or AIDS might never have contracted the disease, had they understood the risk where they lived?

Don’t ask the state Bureau of Public Health for detailed information on that. For years, claiming the data could invade the privacy of some with HIV/AIDS, the agency has refused to provide it. It happened again late last year, when our reporter did a story on an increase in HIV in southern West Virginia.

Asked for county-by-county data, the bureau’s public information officer declined to provide it. “We do not release the HIV data by county due to the small numbers, in an effort to protect the confidentiality of the patient(s),” he explained.

The best the bureau will do is provide details by mult-county regions. A total of 1,746 people in the state were living with HIV and/or AIDS in 2016, the most recent year for which information was available.

Here in the district including Brooke, Hancock, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties, the number was 101. To the south, in the district including Tyler, Pleasants, Wood, Ritchie, Wirt, Calhoun, Jackson and Roane counties, the total was 122.

Worst hit was the district including Kanawha, Clay, Putnam and Boone counties, at 399.

We do have some information about HIV/AIDS in the state. A total of 3,054 West Virginia residents have contracted either HIV or full-blown AIDS, according to the bureau. Between one-fifth and one-fourth have been females. Of the total, 1,263 have died.

Behavior risk factors are clear: Of the 1,963 people who contracted AIDS, 1,062 got it from male-to-male sex. Another 284 picked it up from injection drug use. Heterosexual contact resulted in another 265 cases. One hundred got AIDS from a combination of male-to-male sex and injection drug use. Twelve babies received the virus from infected mothers. For the remaining 240 cases, the cause was unknown, according to the bureau.

If you’re living in one of the bureau’s districts and engaging in risky behavior — unprotected sex with partners you don’t know very well or intravenous drug use — you may well want more detail. For example, if you’re a resident of Clay County, are you at greater risk than people in Kanawha?

That information could prompt you to be more careful. It could keep you from contracting HIV/AIDS.

But no. Forget it, says the bureau. No county-level results will be released. Confidentiality, you know.

Understand this: For years, we have asked only for county-by-county numbers. We don’t want names, addresses, or anything else that might even come close to revealing the identities of people with HIV/AIDS.

Just how would providing the number of people carrying the HIV virus in, say, Ohio County breach anyone’s confidentiality? It wouldn’t.

But, apparently so they can feel secure in their political correctness, state officials won’t provide the data.

One wonders how much they worry about the security of West Virginians who may contract AIDS because they don’t understand how great the risk is where they live.

Myer can be reached at: