Sedgwick County's health department is using the case of an Air Force sergeant accused of having unprotected sex without disclosing his HIV-positive status as a teachable moment.
And a warning.
Almost all of the county's syphilis cases can be traced back to anonymous sexual encounters that began online, health department director Claudia Blackburn told Sedgwick County commissioners Wednesday.
Tech. Sgt. David Gutierrez, stationed and now confined at McConnell Air Force Base, has been charged in military court with aggravated assault, adultery, obstructing justice and other offenses, accused of knowingly having unprotected sex with others without telling them he is HIV-positive.
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Documents say that Gutierrez used adult websites to find casual sex partners and attended "swinger" parties where promiscuous sex is common.
Commissioner Kelly Parks noted that the case at McConnell has drawn national attention.
"That's just a terrible event that happened there," Parks said.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said he is glad that people are talking about sexually transmitted diseases in the open. He thanked Blackburn and her staff for their efforts to educate the community about such diseases.
"This can be a significant issue in our community," he said, adding that he appreciated "your efforts to reduce the incidents of it. I think probably that the fact that we can openly discuss these issues in today's society when it used to be it was just taboo, we wouldn't talk about these things... hopefully that acts as a deterrent."
Blackburn said the county encourages anyone who might be at risk to call the county and get tested. The department is emphasizing that testing is offered all the time, not just during high-profile cases.
The executive director of Positive Directions, a Wichita nonprofit that provides services to people with HIV and AIDS, noted this week that while people may not relate to swinger parties, some might put themselves at risk by having one-night stands after meeting people at bars.
Blackburn said 729 people in the county are living with HIV or AIDS.
The county recorded 33 new HIV cases last year, up from 13 in 2000.
Last year, the county also recorded:
* 703 new cases of gonorrhea;
* 2,605 new cases of chlamydia;
* 32 new cases of syphilis.
Interviews with clients have shown that two risk factors are associated with most syphilis cases reported in Sedgwick County, Blackburn said.
Those risk factors are using the Internet or other forms of technology to solicit sex partners and "frequency and speed of travel." Blackburn said one case involved 90 sex partners, 77 percent of whom were out of state, exposed to the disease while the patient was on vacation or business trips.
Anyone with questions about testing may call the department at 316-660-7300. Because the department is trying to track potential cases related to the charges against Gutierrez, Blackburn said people are asked to mention the McConnell case if applicable.