FORT WORTH, Texas -- Dona Spence, the AIDS counselor who contends that 13 students in rural Northeast Texas have tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus, defended her figures yesterday and said she has been driven into hiding by the furor her report created.
"They have run me off my home," she said in a telephone interview. "The people of Bogata have done everything but burn me out. I understand they are doing it out of fear and hysteria. Nevertheless, I would do it again if I thought it would save somebody's life."
Ms. Spence, 40, who says her husband died of AIDS in 1989, is under fire as state health officials seek to corroborate figures that 13 students -- six from tiny Rivercrest High School -- tested positive for HIV, which leads to AIDS.
She said she resigned Wednesday from the Ark-Tex Council of Governments, where she was AIDS caseworker for a nine-county area, and has also cut her ties with a non-profit AIDS center she was helping establish in nearby Mount Pleasant.
"This may have destroyed my life," Ms. Spence said.
State health officials said yesterday that they have been unable to verify Ms. Spence's findings because her files list students' names, not the confidential numbers they were assigned when they were tested.
"I don't think we have said we dispute her," said Dr. Charles Bell, chief of the Texas Health Department's Bureau of HIV and STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) Control. Dr. Bell said he is researching ways of contacting the students without violating the state's HIV confidentiality law.
Bogata residents said that Ms. Spence has lost her credibility among the community's 1,471 residents.