Awareness of HIV is the first step
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.