Pediatric AIDS cases are disproportionately higher in Utah than in surrounding states, according to statistics released Friday.
But health officials and patient advocacy groups don't know why."It's so frightening. We don't have the resources to educate and treat folks, and the numbers are going to continue to grow," said Ben Barr, executive director, Utah AIDS Foundation.
According to Barr and statistics released from the Utah Department of Health, nine Utah children under the age of 13 have been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. Another 10 or more may be infected with the AIDS virus.
"We have more children with AIDS in Utah than in Colorado and yet Colorado has 1,300 aids cases," he said. "We only have 300."
Barr's concern is that only three of Utah's pediatric AIDS patients contracted the disease from blood transfusions.
"But the other six are children who were born from infected parents. It could mean the mother is an IV drug user or infected by her partner."
The situation could worsen.
State epidemiologist Craig Nichols says there's a potential for an increase in pediatric AIDS cases as more women become infected with the virus.
"The Utah rate for children is higher than surrounding states. We are not sure the reason except we do believe by having the University of Utah Hospital and Primary Children's Medical Center available to review cases, we have a better diagnostic and reporting system here," he said.
Barr believes that the increase "could also be a beginning indicator that HIV is spreading into the general population more than we want to admit."
Nichols doesn't buy that theory.
"Sero-prevalence studies in Utah indicate that HIV is not a major problem in the general public," he said. "It is true that we would expect rates to rise and make some inroads into the general population. But we have to be really careful when we talk about the `general population,' that we are talking about heterosexuals who have multiple partners or who have sexual intercourse with high-risk individuals."
Barr said his biggest worry is that Utah has no prevention programs for IV drug users.
"We are not reaching these people with the message that you and your sex partners and your children are at risk," he said. "The only drug users being reached are those in treatment. Unfortunately, they make up only a small percent of people who use drugs."