Just 1 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in Maryland come from Howard County, but health officials say county residents should not be lulled into a false sense of security. The risk of contracting the disease remains significant in the metropolitan area, they say.
Some 212 people with HIV or AIDS reside in Howard County. That contrasts with 11,260 in nearby Baltimore, according to area health department statistics as of March 31.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Maryland ranks fourth nationally in new AIDS cases. In 2000, 22.6 cases were reported per 100,000 residents - a total of 1,197 cases.
The numbers are not encouraging, said Mary L. Mazzuca, a nurse in the Howard County Health Department who supervises its HIV/AIDS program.
"If you're doing anything risky - unprotected sex or sharing needles to do drugs - your chances of doing that with someone with HIV is much greater than in other areas in the nation," she said.
To spread a warning and to honor those living with AIDS and people who have succumbed to the disease, the county is observing World AIDS Day tonight at Howard Community College.
The hourlong nondenominational observance will feature representatives from different religious congregations and a performance by the Hopkins United Methodist Church choir. Howard County Faith Community, AIDS Alliance of Howard County, the county Health Department and HCC are sponsoring the event.
Mazzuca said the service will be reflective, rather than somber, possibly leaving those who attend with a renewed resolve to help combat acquired immune deficiency syndrome in their communities.
"Hopefully, it's a celebration," she said. "You encourage people to take the spirit that they encountered here and do something in their community."
The event is being held two days before World AIDS Day on Saturday because it would have been more difficult to put it together on a weekend, Mazzuca said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 650,000 and 900,000 Americans have the human immunodeficiency virus. In Maryland, 21,582 people are living with AIDS or HIV, according to the county Health Department's most recent figures.
Mazzuca said that while more people are becoming educated about AIDS, the people who most need to know the information are not getting it.
Need to motivate
"We still have a lot of people getting newly infected - a lot of young people, a lot of African-American people, a lot of women getting infected," she said. "So we need to do a much better job than we're doing to motivate people to be safe."
The Health Department offers free, anonymous HIV testing and counseling at its offices in Colum- bia, Ellicott City and Savage.
To help educate people about the disease, Howard Community College held AIDS Awareness Week, ending today, on campus. The Health Department set up a booth with free HIV testing, red ribbons were distributed and speakers lectured about safe sex.
Focus on youth
"This year, World AIDS Day nationally is focused on youth," said Anne Anderson-Sawyer, an adjunct faculty member in the college's health sciences division.
Six panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt arrived on campus yesterday and will be displayed through tomorrow. The 12-by- 12-foot panels each have eight individual quilt pieces, memorializing people who have died of AIDS. The quilt has more than 84,000 names on it.
"The display of the quilt is a real hands-on way to bring real meaning to [World AIDS Day]," Anderson-Sawyer said. "People can see how much love and care was put into making these."
World AIDS Day observance will be held at 7 tonight at the Howard Community College Galleria, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Information: 410-313-2333.