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STD's on the rise

Disease Detectives

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February 16, 2004

Albany-- HIV and syphilis are making a come back in our region, and people involved in risky sex may have their lives on the line. But many don't even know that their partners are infected. The tough job of tracking down the infected and delivering the news falls on a special group of investigators you probably never knew existed.

With every phone call, Bambia Haynes gets a step closer to closing another case. "You need to come down to the health department," Haynes says to the caller.

But these are no ordinary investigations. Bambia's job involves snooping through the sex lives of strangers. She is a sex sleuth who investigates sexually transmitted disease for the Health Department in South Georgia.

When people test positive for STD's, Bambia has to find their partners. Rooting through their dirty laundry and the most intimate of details. And sometimes--working with very little.

"On one occasion, a female did not know the guys' name. She knew what kind of car he drove, and that he came to her town every Sunday and Saturday for a rave. I asked her to get the license plate number and I gave it to the police department. They ran a check, and we found him that way," says Haynes.

When she does locates her target, her goal is to convince him to get tested and treated-- to stop wider infection. And in Georgia, she is fighting a uphill battle.

The state is now number one in the nation for syphilis; an STD that can cause lesions rashes, heart problems, mental disorders, and if untreated-- death.

"Its difficult to sit down and talk to folks about their sexual behaviors. We are a very closed society. We don't want to be talking about sex," says Dan Staib.

Staib is coordinator for the disease specialists. He says on top of the sensitive nature of their jobs there is a another factor that has help to increased their case loads.

Staib says sexual images in the media are influencing many teens to get involved in casual sex at younger age. What the new generation calls "hooking up."

We asked one teen if he gets a family history or a sexual history. "When you're out at a party or something, you might be a little buzzed. You see a girl and you go in her room and do your thing.

"No it like a one night stand," says one teen. And it's that kind of risky behavior by teen and even pre-teens that has made the number of STD cases in their age group almost double in the last few years.

"On several occasions I have asked maybe an 18-year-old how many sex partners have they've had in your lifetime. And they will sit up there and before they finish they have had more sex partners then the years they are old," says Haynes.

"My experiences with unprotected sex was kinda scary at the beginning. But it left after the first couple of times," says one another teen. Brian Porter was one of those promiscuous young people-- until one day 13 years ago. "That moment-- 11:45 A.M., November 1, 1990, I will never forget," says Porter.

That was the day Porter, a recovering crack addict, found out he'd tested positive for HIV. His name had been given to several sex sleuths, but it was ultimately his decision to get tested that may have stopped him infecting others and start treatment.

"That's when I cried, because then at that moment it hit me-- HIV. Dang it, think I was 22 or 23 at the time-- oooh," says Porter. Although Porter's drug use and sexuality put him at a higher risk.

Bambia has a reminder-- "Doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, nurses. STDs don't have a special group of people who get them. Any body can get and STD," says Haynes.

And as long as long as there is a new person to track down, Haynes will be beating the pavement, fighting the war on sexually transmitted diseases, one case at a time.

The Health department offers STD testing for $15.00 and free HIV tests. All test results are confidential, and if you are infected already, they can help you find treatment centers and provide counseling.

posted at 1:00PM by dave.miller@walb.com