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Epidemic nonsense: Tucson TV station claims '1 in 4 Latinos have HIV'

Tucson TV station KGUN-9 breathlessly promoted a claim that "1 in every 4 Latinos are HIV positive and don't even know it" on Tuesday night. That's of course completely false.

The local ABC broadcast affiliate repeated the claim several times in teasers leading up the to 10 p.m. "news," and posted a story by Luzdelia Caballero with that headline on their website.

The pre-show promo caught the eyes and ears of a number of Tucsonans on social media, but apparently the ridiculously obvious, somewhat racially charged and totally mathematically challenged error didn't catch the attention of any editor or producer at KGUN before the tale was broadcast and published online.

There are nearly 60,000,000 people in the United States who classify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census data. If KGUN's story were correct, there would be 15,000,000 people unknowingly living with HIV in this country — just among those Latinos.

Real data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that there are about 1,140,000 total people living with HIV in the United States.

One-fifth of them are Latino, the CDC said — 254,000 people. A quarter of new HIV infections in the country occur among Latinos — some 10,500 of the 38,700 people who became infected in 2016.

Among Latinos who are HIV positive, 84 percent have been diagnosed, although just 59 percent are receiving care, the CDC said. Both those figures aren't high enough — "Not enough Latinos with HIV are aware of their status, and too few are receiving HIV care and treatment that will help them live longer, healthier lives and get and keep an undetectable viral load — meaning there is effectively no risk of transmitting HIV," the agency said — but the 40,000 who are infected and unaware according to those numbers is a far cry from the 15 million that the Tucson TV station claimed were in that situation.

By Wednesday morning, the headline on KGUN's story had been changed to something less off the wall ("Community gets together to help end stigma surrounding HIV"), but it still began with the factually unsupported claim that "1 in every 4 Latinos who are HIV positive do not know their status."

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That's somewhat less ridiculous, but still not accurate, 16 still being less than 25. And KGUN still weren't done shooting themselves in the foot — or maybe another body part.

Despite that morning update, the video in the story was still captioned "1 in every 4 people have HIV and don't even know it."

For those of you not close to a calculator, that would be 78,520,000 of the 327,167,000 people living in this country.

The initial changes to the posted story didn't indicate that anything had been altered.

Ironically enough, the report was about a National Latino Aids Awareness Day event held to "debunk myths" about HIV and AIDS.

Late Wednesday afternoon, after we emailed questions to Leeza Starks, KGUN's news director, the station removed the video of the story from their website, and appended an "editor's note" that called the previous headline "obviously inaccurate."

KGUN staff did not respond to our questions about their story Wednesday, but Starks replied with an email Thursday with a response that the station has been telling others who've questioned the story:

We have corrected this information on-air and online.

We are also addressing this with staff to make sure we have the correct process in place to ensure information is accurate and appropriately attributed.

We take this very seriously. 

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Starks did not respond to our questions about how they sourced the data in KGUN's original report, or about how the story was edited.

Caballero, a former weathercaster and bilingual reporter for local NBC and Univision affiliates in Palm Springs, has only been working for the Tucson station since September. She gained a bit of viral fame earlier this year for rehearsing a stand-up report while oblivious to a rattlesnake just behind her.

KGUN's more recent update of her HIV story more accurately began, 'One in every six Latinos who are HIV positive do not know their status, according to the Centers for Disease Control."

"KGUN 9 has corrected the story and regrets the error," the note read.

KGUN is owned by the EW Scripps chain of about 60 TV stations, a former media conglomerate headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

From the CDC, with reported that stigma against gay male sex and other social, economic and cultural factors put Latinos at risk:

In some communities, the cultural value of machismo may create reluctance to acknowledge sensitive, yet risky behaviors, such as male-to-male sexual contact or substance misuse.

Social and economic factors like poverty, racial discrimination, less and lack of access to health care can increase HIV risk.

Language barriers, low educational attainment, and mistrust of the healthcare system may also affect the quality of care and prevention services received by Latinos.

Research shows that Latinos born in different countries have distinct behavioral risk factors for HIV. For example, data suggest that Latinos born in Puerto Rico are more likely than other Latinos to contract HIV as a result of injection drug use or from high-risk heterosexual contact. By contrast, sexual contact with other men is the primary cause of HIV among Latino men born in places such as Mexico and the 50 U.S. states.

Among Latinos, men account for 90 percent of the new HIV infections in the country — with 88 percent of those among gay and bisexual men. Age is also a factor, with 24-34 year-olds accounting for the largest number of new infections.

Daily PrEP treatments can help prevent HIV from spreading, and PEP treatments, taken for a month, can help prevent an infection among those who have been exposed to HIV.

Switching off your TV can help keep you from being exposed to utter nonsense, experts said.

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1 comment on this story

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12 comments
Oct 21, 2019, 7:56 pm
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Does not require an expert to tell you to switch off the television to avoid nonsense.
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