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Austin sees spike in HIV/AIDS cases

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Even after decades of education about AIDS and HIV, new people are testing positive. One group, right here in Austin, is most at risk.

Please be warned, you might find some of this information shocking.

Denial is usually the first step.

"I didn't really believe it until I got the call from Travis County Health Department saying...somebody who recently tested positive has indicated that they were sexually active with you," said Daniel Segura.

I asked, "What was that like for you?"

Segura answered, "Heartbreaking...Not only was this bad news for me, but it was bad news that could have been avoided for that person who I had sex with."

Daniel Segura is 28 years old and HIV positive.

"Think about a lifestyle where you have to, your life depends on taking that medication every day as scheduled. That's your life," said Daniel.

He's a member of what's referred to by the AIDS Services of Austin, as the "MSM community," men who have sex with men.

"For 2012, and from January to June, we had about 1,700 cases all throughout Texas...80 percent of those individuals that tested positive were actually MSM," said Jonathan Chavez, who works for the AIDS Services of Austin.

Chavez said, "They're gay, bisexual, or...whatever."

Groups like ASA have performed prevention outreach for decades in the MSM community, but the numbers still aren't going down.

Chavez said, "In the past, it used to be heroin...We're finding out that the community of MSM's are actually being introduced to...meth."

"It throws out the window any sense of boundaries," said Segura. "You have people who are doctors and nurses and lawyers who are using this stuff."

He knows...because he's experienced it first-hand.

"September. I started using meth in September," said Segura. "I was in a relationship where my partner had been using meth...He had been using meth before we began our relationship."

Drug use isn't the only factor increasing this group's risk for contracting HIV.

Daniel said, "While in this relationship with him, he told me that something he was interested in was group sex...that group sex involved meth."

It's called "party and play."

"This drug use is creating a situation where they are throwing away their inhibitions," Segura said.

Daniel says it happens at people's homes and even a local business in Austin.

"There's something really exciting about being able to throw away your sexual inhibitions because so many people have them," Daniel said. "They have no more shame about the people who they have sex with. There is no more shame about the number of people they have sex with...and there's no more shame about your status."

According to ASA, the group of men testing positive most often are between the ages of 18 and 29.

Daniel says he quit using meth in cold turkey in December because of this experience.

Segura said, "It was a group sex situation that I was invited to...this kid showed up. He was probably 18 or 19...and as he was undressing and smoking meth, he asked his friend, who he had joined, if he knew the status of everybody else there and his friend simply told him, that's your responsibility to ask."

"They don't know the status of the people they're having sex with," said Segura. "I knew the majority of the individuals there were, in fact, HIV positive."

Education level and cultural background can also increase someone's chances of becoming infected.

Chavez said, "It doesn't matter whether you're straight, heterosexual or trisexual or confused or gay or bisexual, HIV affects everybody in general."

ASA has testing available both on and off-site usually seven days a week.

"What breaks my heart sometimes is knowing that even though we have the services for them, um, they're not ready to receive those services," Chavez said.

Until September 2011, Daniel thought becoming HIV positive was an impossibility...and hindsight is 20/20.

"If I could go back and do it again, my choice would be to be completely healthy," said Segura. "While you don't want to live in shame for being HIV positive, you have to think about the consequences. You have to think about the consequences no matter who you are, whether you're straight, whether you're gay. You have to have to think about the consequences of your sexual activity."

Being 100 percent healthy used to be a great sense of pride for him.

Daniel said, "You want your whole life to be healthy. I don't have that opportunity anymore."

According to a report from the Austin-Travis County Health Department, 20 percent of new AIDS cases were from heterosexual exposures. By age group, AIDS diagnosis peaks in people in their 30's. Research shows these people were actually infected during their 20's.

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