The nonprofit mapping effort, called AIDSVu, isn’t a perfect representation of the disease in the United States. The visualization is based on 2008 data, some states didn’t contribute county or demographic information that others did, and the map shows only diagnosed rates and cases. An estimated 1 in 5 HIV carriers in the U.S. are undiagnosed.
Despite these limitations, it may be the most thorough geographical depiction of HIV ever created.
“It shows HIV doesn’t respect borders like statistical reports do, and shows how far it’s reached into every part of the country, even rural areas,” said epidemiologist Patrick Sullivan of Emory University, one of the project’s leaders. “You can, for example, see a corridor of infection that goes down through the southeast. This is a new way of looking at this epidemic.”
Laws in every U.S. state require testing centers to report HIV-positive diagnoses, stripped of private information, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet building a map using this data was a massive undertaking.
AIDSVu leaders spent more than 1.5 years coordinating the data’s entry into a single Google Map. With just a few clicks, it shows county-by-county HIV cases and rates, and the epidemic’s patterns by gender, poverty, ethnicity and other demographics.
New York City and Washington D.C. even show the disease’s reach down to zip codes. For example, in 10036, the zip code from which this story was written, the rate of people diagnosed with HIV is at least 1.95 percent. That’s about three times New York state’s average.
The AIDSVu map will be continually updated as fresh data arrives. The organization hopes states and counties that didn’t provide more detailed data will change their minds, helping create an even more complete picture of the epidemic.