The good news is that the number of new HIV/AIDS cases reported in April was 22 percent lower than that of the same period last year. Even better news is that the number dropped significantly from March 2017 figures of 968.

The declining numbers are definitely a relief but there is a damper: 87 percent of the 629 new cases (545) in April were asymptomatic at the time of reporting, according to the latest report from the Epidemiological Bureau, the disease surveillance arm of the Department of Health (DOH).

Of the new cases, 84 have since become acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), a state wherein the body becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and even cancer.

In General Santos City, health officials are alarmed because of the rapidly increasing number of HIV/AIDS cases in the locality. One case is being reported every three days. There is cause for concern because 429 cases were recorded in April 2017 alone, whereas there were only 19 during the same period in 2015.

According to resource site AIDSinfo, patients in the chronic HIV infection or clinical latency stage may not display HIV-related symptoms yet can still spread the infection. And obviously, non-treatment usually speeds up development of AIDS.

This is most worrisome for health authorities, who have been relentless in their campaign for individuals at risk to get tested early or regularly. Early diagnosis means getting immediate treatment to delay the progression of AIDS.

Some of the cases reported in General Santos were already full-blown AIDS, and these were only diagnosed after the patients were confined in a hospital for a complication and had undergone testing, according to Dr Mely Lastimosa, Social Hygienic Clinic Coordinator under the city health office.

It has likewise been observed that HIV symptoms usually presented themselves three years after infection, Dr Lastimosa reported.

Data from the southern Philippines city supported general findings that 95 percent of new infections were male, and that sexual contact remains the most common mode of transmission, particularly male-to-male (MSM).

National data showed 48 cases were infected through transactional sex (those who pay for sex, or receive payments for sex, or both).

The affected age range spans from 2 to 79 years old, with a median age of 27. While more than half belonged to the 25-34 year age group, more alarming was that 30 percent of the new cases were youth aged 15-24 years old, the EB reported.

In GenSan, most of the infected patients belonged to the 22 to 25 age group, and were male professionals engaged in risky sexual behaviours. These include gays, bisexuals, men who have sex men (MSM) and others who engaged in unprotected sex with multiple partners. College students and graduates were among those found to be positive.

Of the special groups, 33 adolescents (10-19 age group) have been included in the report, as well as 6 pregnant women, and 51 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Other than sexual contact, sharing of infected needles and mother-to-child transmission were the common modes of transmission.

There have been 17 deaths, with 12 from the 25-34 age group, 2 from 35-49 age group, and a single case from the 15-24 age group.

The National Capital Region (NCR) recorded most of the cases at 37 percent, followed by Region 4A with 17 percent, Region 7 with 11 percent of the cases, Region 3 with 9 percent, Region 6 with 4 percent and 21 percent coming from other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, five inmates from the Lanto Correctional Center in General Santos were among those found positive for the disease after a screening event conducted jointly by the DOH and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

The two agencies are exerting efforts to secure the health of 2,115 other inmates in the facility.

Since 1984, there has been a total of 42,283 cases in the country, 3,957 of them were AIDS cases, and a total of 2,124 have died. MIMS

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