HIV Hot Spots: The areas in metro Atlanta the disease has taken a grip

ATLANTA — A Channel 2 Action News investigation is giving you new insight into Georgia's HIV epidemic.

The state has the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in the nation.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, there were 2,593 new HIV diagnoses in 2016. The latest available data is for 2017 when there was an increase to 2,698 new cases.

[READ 2016 INVESTIGATION: Atlanta's HIV 'epidemic' compared to third world African countries]

"We have a lot of work to do," said Emory University associate professor Dr. Aaron Siegler.

Siegler is a member of the AIDSVu team, which tracks HIV cases in Georgia and around the nation.

"It allows both individuals, policy makers, activists to get a sense of the HIV epidemic in their own community," Siegler said.

In metro Atlanta, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Rockdale counties have some of the highest HIV rates per 100,000 people.


"Atlanta is the hotbed of HIV transmissions," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Zandraetta Tims-Cook.

Tims-Cook told Channel 2 Action News one of the reasons for the high HIV rate in metro Atlanta is the number of new people moving into the area each year.

"Because people come into Atlanta not realizing the magnitude of HIV transmissions and cases, I think it can sometimes leave people unaware of the risk," Tims-Cook said.

While the majority of cases are in metro Atlanta, there's also a problem in rural counties, notably in South Georgia.

According to the AIDSVU tracker, more than a dozen south Georgia counties are in the highest category, each with more than 380 HIV cases per 100,000 people.

"It's important for folks who live in rural areas to understand that it's not necessarily protective to be in a rural area versus an urban area," said Siegler.

The advocates and health experts we spoke with told us there is not a magic bullet to stop the spread of HIV, but it's a comprehensive, multilayer approach.

One big push across the state is to make sure all adults know whether they are HIV positive.

"An HIV screen should be as routine as any other test that we do," Tims-Cook said.

That's even if you don't think you are in a high-risk group.

"It's the behavior of their partner who puts them at risk," Tims-Cook said.

In addition to more awareness and improved access to care, there also is a push to educate more people about Prep, a pill to prevent HIV infection.

Over the summer, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill creating a three-year pilot program to provide Prep to at-risk communities.

Earlier this year, the White House announced an effort to end the HIV epidemic, targeting Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.