AIDS in Watauga County, North Carolina, 1985-2009


The Appalachian Region, and Watauga County in particular, has not been impacted by HIV/AIDS on levels comprable to urban North Carolina. AIDS is far from being an epidemic. By 2005, the county of 48,000 had a total of 20 diagnosed cases of HIV.[1] Yet, Watauga County, with Appalachian State University leading the way, affected some state-wide change by being North Carolina's first public university to mount condom dispensers in campus restrooms.[2][3][4]

Although Watauga County's AIDS incidence is insignificant in comparison to North Carolina’s urban centers, its first reported AIDS case was in 1987, and ASU’s first student reported with HIV infection was publicized in 1987.[5][6] When an Appalachian student was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, a community-based AIDS support group began meeting to provide emotional and medical support. This group was also the beginning of Boone's Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter.[7][8] Alumni report knowing multiple college friends who are infected or have since died, including Appalachian Gay Awareness Association founder Jeff Isenhour.[9] In 1993, the AIDS Task Force organized to use Ryan White funds. It closed in 2001. In 2005, Hickory-based ALFA began serving Watauga County. During the 2000s, HIV infection continued its spread within the gay and bisexual local and student population although ASU doctors note a substantial demographic shift to heterosexual risk, especially within the African-American student population.


  1. Division of Public Health, North Carolina Epidemiologic Profile for HIV/STD Prevention and Care Planning (State of North Carolina: Raleigh, NC, 2006), D-13.
  2. Russel Johnson, “Condom Dispensers Discussed,” The Appalachian, 17 November 1988, p. 1.
  3. Jeff Weathersbee, “Condom Issue Touches Colleges: Condom Sales Rise Steadily,” The Appalachian, 26 April 1990, p. 1
  4. Jon Jimison, “Senate Approves Condom Bill,” The Appalachian, 1 December 1988, p. 1.
  5. Dana Scott, “Watauga County is Relatively Free of AIDS Virus,” The Appalachian, 5 May 1987, p. 1.
  6. Tracey Coffron, “College Students at Highest Risk for AIDS Infection,” The Appalachian, 26 February 1991, p. 1.
  7. Terry Taylor, Appalachian Memory Project, Belk Library and Information Commons, Appalachian State University.
  8. Pat Geiger, Interview with Kathy Staley, 8 September 2006.
  9. Don Barber (pseudonym), Interview with Kathy Staley, 15 June 2006.