© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

HIV diagnoses are on the rise in Wyoming

A close up black and white image of human immunodeficiency virus.
C. Goldsmith
A scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding from cultured lymphocyte, produced in 1984. Multiple round bumps on cell surface represent sites of assembly and budding of virions.

Wyoming saw a sharp increase in HIV diagnoses last year, affecting both gay and straight individuals.

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, there were 22 new cases of HIV detected in 2023. That's a significant increase over the year before, which saw just 13 new cases.

Communicable Disease Prevention Program Manager Leslie Fowler said some of that increase is due to better contact tracing, but it's also likely that HIV is spreading due to ignorance.

"There tends to be a myth in Wyoming that it only infects people who are men that identify as gay, so I think other people don't always get tested," she said. "So we're seeing more cases in general, but we're also seeing more heterosexual and more female cases than we have in the past."

Heterosexual individuals accounted for more than a third of Wyoming’s new diagnoses in 2023.

HIV is the virus that ultimately causes AIDS, a serious condition that wrecks the body's ability to fight off even minor infections like the common cold.

"It infects a specific white blood cell, and then essentially turns that type of white blood cell into a little HIV factory," Fowler said. "And then, eventually, you don't have any of those white blood cells left."

There is no cure for HIV — once you have it, you have it for good — but it's no longer the death sentence that it used to be. Viewed as a "gay pneumonia" or "gay plague" by many — including the Reagan Administration — HIV and AIDS were ignored for years while thousands died.

But the disease was finally acknowledged and has been researched more thoroughly in the decades since. Modern treatment now allows for longer, fuller lives for those diagnosed with HIV. The treatments can even reduce a patient's viral load to the point where they're no longer at risk of spreading the virus.

It can also be more effectively prevented now. HIV is commonly spread through sexual contact, so the Department of Health recommends using condoms, limiting your number of partners, and getting tested routinely — especially before having a new sexual partner.

Wyoming has both in-person and at-home testing options.

The nonprofit Wyoming AIDS Assistance helps state residents living with HIV or AIDS access care by, for example, covering the costs of transportation or lodging when those patients must travel to one of Wyoming’s few HIV specialists.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.

Enjoying stories like this?

Donate to help keep public radio strong across Wyoming.

Related Content