Aware­ness of HIV is the first step

Maryland Independent - - COMMUNITY FORUM -

HIV/AIDS — that was a prob­lem in the 1980s, wasn’t it? We’ve al­ready got­ten that health epi­demic un­der con­trol. Noth­ing to re­ally worry too much about now, right? Wrong. Ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land De­part­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene’s lat­est sta­tis­tics, 1,334 adult and ado­les­cent HIV (hu­man im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency virus) cases were re­ported in the state in 2015. By the end of 2015, 31,882 Mary­land res­i­dents were re­port­edly liv­ing with an HIV di­ag­no­sis. Mary­land ranked fifth in the na­tion for HIV di­ag­no­sis rates and third for AIDS (ac­quired im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency syn­drome) di­ag­no­sis rates.

So it’s still out there, and it’s still se­ri­ous.

And per­haps worst of all, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion es­ti­mate about 16.3 per­cent of all those liv­ing with HIV in Mary­land went un­di­ag­nosed in 2015. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, one in eight peo­ple liv­ing with HIV in the United States don’t even know they have it.

For any­one who is sex­u­ally ac­tive, these num­bers should be jar­ring. And it’s im­por­tant to spread the word that HIV isn’t dead, and it’s ab­so­lutely deadly.

That’s why next Tues­day, June 27, is des­ig­nated as Na­tional HIV Test­ing Day. The goal is to raise aware­ness about the im­por­tance of get­ting tested through ini­tia­tives like school and fam­ily out­reach, get­ting peo­ple in the com­mu­nity to learn about and talk about HIV/AIDS. The three lo­cal health de­part­ments in South­ern Mary­land are loaded with in­for­ma­tion about the virus, and are al­ways will­ing to share that knowl­edge with the public.

Aside from sta­tis­tics prov­ing the preva­lence of HIV and AIDS is still an is­sue to­day, one ma­jor rea­son peo­ple should con­sider get­ting tested is that most peo­ple with HIV don’t re­al­ize they have it, as they rarely ex­hibit symp­toms. But know­ing you have it can go a long way to help­ing your­self — and others — as HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, the fi­nal stage of an HIV in­fec­tion that leads to a weak­ened im­mune sys­tem, in­hibit­ing the body’s abil­ity to ward off even mi­nor in­fec­tions.

The Charles County Health De­part­ment of­fers con­fi­den­tial HIV test­ing ser­vices, as well as coun­sel­ing on how to get treat­ment and avoid trans­mit­ting the virus to others. For­tu­nately, mod­ern treat­ments for HIV-pos­i­tive in­di­vid­u­als can help those with HIV go on to live full, ac­tive lives and keep them from pro­gress­ing to the AIDS stage. This Tues­day, the health de­part­ment will host free rapid test­ing at its White Plains lo­ca­tion, 4545 Crain High­way, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and next Fri­day at the Wal­mart Shop­ping Cen­ter in La Plata from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Those most at risk who should con­sider get­ting tested, ac­cord­ing to the health de­part­ment, in­clude any­one who has had sex with­out a con­dom (yes, even just once), had sex with more than one part­ner, pre­vi­ously had a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease or ever shared a nee­dle with some­one.

Of course, any­one can con­tract HIV — both women and men, both straight and gay. The only way to know for sure if you have it is to get tested.

The health de­part­ment does HIV test­ing every Tues­day and Fri­day. Call 301-609-6900 to make an ap­point­ment.

So if you’re un­cer­tain of your sta­tus, find out. Knowl­edge is the first step.

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