Palm Beach County Health Department reports increase in HIV cases

Palm Beach County Health Department reports increase in HIV cases

Reports of Charlie Sheen planning to reveal he is HIV positive have sparked awareness in South Florida. New numbers from the Palm Beach County Health Department show that the number of new HIV cases has jumped nearly 50 percent in the last two years.

One local woman living with HIV says people need to be more open about their status. At her home away from home, an arcade center in West Palm Beach, she keeps no secrets from friends, even strangers.

"Everyone here knows my health condition," said Ethel Watson. 

The arcade is a place for Watson to disconnect from work, but it also gives her a chance to educate strangers about HIV.

"It's important that you let people know," added Watson. 

Watson was diagnosed at age 28 while in drug rehabilitation. Becoming HIV positive changed her life.

"I'm careful as I can possibly be. If I cut myself I will immediately tell someone not to touch that blood," said Watson who says she's extremely careful around her grandchildren.

Watson is an HIV awareness advocate in Palm Beach County where 8,221 people are infected with the virus. According to the health department, West Palm has the most cases, followed by Lake Worth. 

"We're constantly facing barriers when it comes to people knowing their status and testing in Palm Beach County," said Richardo Jackson, with the county health department.

Of the nearly 500 cases reported this year, the biggest percentage are people 30 to 49-years-old. The health department admits the numbers may be higher because many people are living with HIV and don't know it. 

"They are afraid to get tested because they are afraid that they will be rejected," added Watson.

According to the state health department website, the number of people currently living with HIV on the Treasure Coast are:

St. Lucie County: 1,656

Indian River County: 361

Martin County: 361

Okeechobee County: 102

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