WILMINGTON -- Not only is the number of cases up in our region, but it seems the disease is spreading across demographic lines. According to statistics from New Hanover Regional Medical Center 190 new cases have emerged in our seven-county area in the past two years. Experts say the disease is also affecting a younger population -- a quarter of those infected are between the ages of 20 and 30, and 60 five percent of them are male. Nurse practitioner Victoria Oxendine says the more we know about the disease, the less likely we are to contract it. "Know the information about HIV, know what's going on with your body, know your partner's information. Because it doesn't affect just one person, it affects a whole community," Oxendine said. Of those treated at New Hanover 50 percent of them contracted the disease through heterosexual contact, 33 percent were through homosexual male contact and 12 percent through intravenous drug use. One local young man has been living with HIV his whole life. He and others involved in helping the local aids community say the primary problem is a lack of education. Charles Greene was born HIV-positive. He said, "Back when I was in school it wasn't easy to talk about." He's now 22 and has outlived his mother, who passed it along to him after she contracted the virus from a blood transfusion. Greene says he's comfortable with the fact that he suffers from AIDS, but that others also need to be in order to make progress. Greene said, "People need to stop being scared of it and accept it and try to live with it -- like I've done." And more people in our region are -- according to statistics released by New Hanover Regional Medical Center. The disease is also affecting younger people. Nearly a quarter of the infected population is between 20 and 30 years of age. Transmission modes have also changed. Of those treated at New Hanover, 50 percent were through heterosexual contact. Coastal AIDS Resource Program Director Gaye Hieb said, "People have taken the urgency and importance away from it and are not being as precautious as they can." Hieb says education is the key to prevention. "Prevention education has been out of the mindset of everyone and people just immediately think you take a pill or pop a pill and that's it and they go on and it's a lot more involved than that," Hieb said. "I think we need to get into the school system and educate our youth about the prevention measures," Hieb said. Greene agrees. He added that if young people choose to have sex, they need to be careful "The best bet is get tested, I think. And talk to your partner, a lot," Greene said. Not only is the number of people with aids on the rise -- New Hanover Regional Medical Center's statistics show more people are also becoming infected with the sexually transmitted diseases syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea are also up.
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