World AIDS Day began Dec. 1, 1988, and continues to be recognized annually each December. The day raises awareness about the disease and how it’s spread and explores the stigma attached to it. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection, which compromises the human immune system.
“In the absence of a cure or vaccine, the only hope of tackling HIV is to educate people on how to avoid contracting the virus in the first place – or passing it on if they are HIV positive,” said Vanessa Green, Group Head, Living with HIV at Standard Chartered.
Worldwide, 33.4 million people were living with HIV in 2008, up slightly from 2007. The increased availability of treatment allows more people with the infection to live longer and may account for the increase. Children still account for 2.1 million of people living with HIV.
More than one million Americans live with HIV. According to the CDC, every 9.5 minutes someone contracts HIV in the United States. Darlington County was ranked 20th in the state on the number of HIV cases, 384, and was ranked 18th in number of AIDS cases, 259, according to statistics released in June.
On Thursday afternoon, Hartsville High students will be able to hear a presentation on HIV/AIDS that will end with a balloon launch for the 800 plus diagnosed cases of South Carolina’s youth age 13 to 19.
“There’s no shame. If you are of age and you are sexually active, you need to be tested,” said Hope McQueen of CareSouth and one of the presenters for Thursday’s event.
With the prick of a finger, you can know your status in as little 15 to 20 minutes. Testing doesn’t expose you to the disease. It’s as simple as blood being drawn for a blood sugar test.
CareSouth provides an HIV test free of charge through The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to anyone who wants it. (White was a 13-year-old boy who contracted the disease from a blood transfusion.) For more information on CareSouth’s program, call (843) 378-3441.
Last month, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization released its annual AIDS Epidemic Update that exposed new trends in HIV/AIDS. The most common way the disease is transmitted has shifted from infected needles to heterosexual sex. It is more than a disease afflicting drug addicts or gay men.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS as this shift occurs. Many are not willing or able to force a partner to use protection. Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death in women of reproductive age.
The disease also impacts racial/ethnic minorities in the United States disproportionately. African Americans account for approximately half of all HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed.
Additionally, the numbers of HIV/AIDS cases have risen tremendously in individuals 50 and older. Older people are just as sexually active as younger people, but doctors often are not asking older individuals if they’re sexually active. Many of the symptoms occur commonly with other infections, and HIV is often overlooked as a cause in older patients.
“A lot of people don’t even know the symptoms of HIV,” McQueen said.
Initial HIV symptoms can include fever, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, rash or no symptoms at all. Later in the disease, an infected person may have diarrhea, weight loss, fever, cough and shortness of breath. By the time AIDS develops, the person may have soaking night sweats, shaking chills, fevers higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit for several weeks, dry cough, shortness of breath, chronic diarrhea, persistent white spots or unusual lesions on the tongue or mouth, persistent headaches, blurred and distorted vision, weight loss and persistent or unexplained fatigue.
You can transmit the disease without showing any symptoms at all, so sexually active people need to know their status.
The way we have been discussing this problem is not getting through to everyone who needs the information. Education is crucial to stopping the spread of this deadly disease.
Wear that red ribbon, the international symbol of AIDS, to demonstrate care and concern about HIV/AIDS and to remind others of the need for their support and commitment, but also talk about the disease and its impact.
Educate yourself, your family and friends. Get tested, practice safe sex and eliminate high risk behaviors. Outside your own circle, you can provide support to people living with HIV/AIDS or get involved with or host a World AIDS Day event in our community.
The virus is here and spreading. Now, just as quickly, we must spread the power of knowledge to combat it.