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Minnesota HIV/AIDS cases up slightly; rise in female cases concerning

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Updated 1:10 p.m. | Posted 9:58 a.m.

Reported cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, rose slightly last year in Minnesota. Within that data, however, there was a significant increase among women. 

HIV diagnoses rose 2 percent last year compared to 2013, with 307 new cases reported,  state health officials said Thursday. The number of new HIV cases among females, however, rose 7 percent, with women of color accounting for 80 percent of all new female cases.

The Minnesota Department of Health didn't have an explanation for the increase in women, but officials said they're concerned the deadly disease is hitting some groups particularly hard.

"Although we saw a slight increase in the overall HIV case reports, some of our communities are carrying a much heavier burden of HIV disease," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a statement.

The department also said it worries that recent increases in the rates of other sexually transmitted diseases could impact HIV rates. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis all increased in 2014 and some of these "can increase HIV transmission or the likelihood of getting infected by two to five times."

A total of 10,718 HIV/AIDS cases have been reported since MDH began tracking AIDS in 1982 and HIV in 1985. An estimated 7,988 persons are living with HIV/AIDS in the state.

Male-to-male sex was the main risk factor for males of all ages with known risk factors, making up 67 percent of male cases, the department said. It added, however, that there was "no significant change in the number of new male cases" from 2013 to 2014.

State AIDS Director Krissie Guerard says it's been challenging to reduce new infections, partly because many people delay testing. 

"We know there's a lot of people being tested later, in later stages of their infection," she said. "So there's still that transmission rate of people not knowing" their HIV status.

Among the new report's findings:

• 86 percent of new HIV cases are concentrated in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
• The number of new HIV cases attributed to injection drug use remains low in Minnesota.
• Communities of color are disproportionately infected compared to white non-Hispanics.

"Higher HIV infection rates are seen with communities that experience inadequate employment, education, income, and housing," Ehlinger said. 

Health officials noted that HIV infection "remains highly preventable by consistently practicing safer sex, including using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners, as well as avoiding the sharing of needles or equipment to tattoo, body pierce, or inject drugs."

MPR News reporter Lorna Benson contributed to this report.