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Md. prison AIDS cases doubled in 2004-2005

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland has the highest percentage of confirmed prison AIDS cases in the nation, according to a new study by the U.S. Justice Department.

The study, based on statistics reported by 41 states at the end of 2005, states that the number of confirmed AIDS cases among inmates in Maryland doubled between 2004 and 2005 - from 204 to 408.

State prison officials had no explanation late yesterday of why the number of AIDS cases might have doubled in the span of a year.

Officials "have not had a chance to examine the report," said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The Justice Department's report said that 1.8 percent of Maryland's inmate population had AIDS. States with the next highest percentage were Connecticut, New York and Delaware, with 1.1 percent each.

The spike in confirmed AIDS cases is in sharp contrast to other data in the Justice Department's report, which show a drop in the number of inmates in Maryland who tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.

People with HIV might eventually progress to full-blown AIDS - a more advanced stage of HIV infection that occurs when the immune system breaks down.

The Justice Department report shows the number of Maryland inmates who tested positive for HIV dropped from 792 in 2004 to 671 in 2005. In 2003, there were 988 HIV-positive inmates in Maryland prisons, according to the report.

Vernarelli said the Baltimore area has a high number of drug users, and many of the inmates who have the disease got it through intravenous drug use. He said the prison system spent $850,000 in August on HIV medications for prison inmates.

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