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Northwell outreach effort targets ‘hot zones’ of HIV infection

New technology uses “heat maps” that illustrate high concentrations of HIV infection, officials said.

Northwell Health's Center for AIDS Research and Treatment

Northwell Health's Center for AIDS Research and Treatment is targeting "hot zones" of HIV infection -- all communities with significant black populations -- as areas of outreach, says Dr. Joseph McGowan during a presentation Thursday in Manhasset. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

New technology involving “heat maps” that illustrate high concentrations of HIV infection are helping the Northwell Health system better target outreach in African-American communities, officials with the health network said Thursday.

Northwell’s Center for AIDS Research and Treatment in Manhasset has targeted several so-called hot zones of HIV infection — all communities with significant African-American populations — as areas for outreach. The center’s director named Hempstead, Westbury and Huntington Station as hot zones for HIV, along with the borough of Queens.

These areas are being targeted by the center for prevention, treatment and education, said Dr. Joseph McGowan, who introduced his heat maps during a morning news briefing.

African-Americans are 17 times more likely to die of HIV than their white counterparts, and constitute more than 50 percent of HIV cases nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blacks additionally are more likely to be unemployed and have housing and food insecurities — risky situations that surprisingly track with higher HIV infection rates, McGowan said.

“The epidemic is still expanding, but at a slower rate. Therefore there are not fewer, but more people living with HIV on Long Island every year,” he said.

About 130,000 people of all races have tested positive for HIV statewide, according to data from the state Department of Health.

The New York State HIV/AIDS Annual Surveillance Report, which was posted on the Health Department’s website in December, shows 5,815 people in Nassau and Suffolk living with diagnosed HIV infection. Of those, 2,744 people, including inmates, were in Nassau County. That figure encompasses 1,170 people who are HIV positive but do not have AIDS, and 1,574 with the full-blown disease.

In Suffolk, the total, including inmates, is listed at 3,071 of which 1,328 are living with HIV but do not have AIDS, and 1,743 who have the immune deficiency disease.

Islandwide, however, there is an estimated 1,000 people who are probably infected with the virus but don’t know it, and many probably reside in the hot zones, McGowan said.

“That’s the number we are trying to focus on. How do we find those people because they are the source of new infections,” he said.

The aim is to get people on antiretroviral therapy, the drug regimen that not only combats HIV but is capable of suppressing the virus to nondetectable levels in the blood. Once that happens, the person is no longer able to transmit it to others. It is not a cure.

Stopping viral transmission in these communities abides by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s larger effort to end the HIV epidemic in New York by 2020.

Jeffrey Kemp, who resided in Glen Cove and Roosevelt before recently moving to New York City, says he religiously takes his antiretroviral medication and keeps track of his medical appointments and bloodwork on a State Health Department app called Get, designed for people with HIV. He checks it first thing every morning.

Kemp, who spoke at the briefing, was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2002 while residing in Kentucky. He said he had received his best medical care at Northwell. “Being here I feel like a person who matters,” he said.

Jessica Clark, a community outreach professional and member of McGowan’s team, goes to churches and other venues in minority communities, carrying messages of prevention and healthy lifestyles.

She told the briefing that people at risk for HIV because of unsafe behaviors — but who are not infected — are eligible for the drug therapy called PrEP. The drug’s acronym stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is a combination therapy of two medications, which can prevent HIV infection, she said.

Another is PEP, which stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It is made up of antiretroviral medications that can be taken after possible exposure to HIV. The therapy can prevent infection, Clark said.

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