Howard County should consider distributing clean needles and bleach to drug addicts to reduce the spread of the deadly AIDS virus, a draft report by the county's AIDS task force said.
The 18-page report released this week made other recommendations on curbing the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The task force is due to submit a final report to County Executive Charles I. Ecker Dec. 1.
Dr. Joyce Boyd, the county's health officer, said that because Howard still has a relatively low number of people diagnosed as having AIDS, it can focus more on preventing the spread of the disease.
Fifty-five people in Howard County were reported as having AIDS, compared with 1,749 in Baltimore, 249 in Baltimore County, 132 in Anne Arundel County, 44 in Harford County and 21 in Carroll County, according to statewide statistics for August. Prince George's and Montgomery counties, which border Howard to the south, had 706 and 487 cases, respectively.
Boyd said the number of people with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, could be eight times the number of people with the AIDS disease. Many of those with HIV are unaware that they've been infected, she said.
"We're surrounded by areas that have high incidences so there's no reason to assume that there won't be more cases here," Boyd said. "It's not appropriate to say we don't have it here, or that it's not a problem."
The county this year had its first ever report of a child with AIDS, she said. Six women in the county had the virus as of July.
Boyd said the public ought to discuss whether the county should begin looking at programs to accept used needles from addicts in exchange for clean ones and distribute bleach to help addicts clean their needles.
That effort is designed to reduce the likelihood that addicts will spread the virus to others through infected needles.
Joyce Brown, the county's substance abuse coordinator, said the county should study needle-exchange and bleach-giveaway programs in other jurisdictions across the country, which she said appear to be successful.
"It seems to be working," Brown said. "If that's the case, it's worth exploring."
The report also recommends that:
* The county operate a clinic for people with HIV to monitor their progress. It said many of those without insurance delay treatment because they can't afford it.
* AIDS prevention and education programs be started at the county Detention Center.
* Employers, recreation centers, black organizations, medical providers and non-public schools provide more attention to the deadly virus.