Over the Thanksgiving holiday I learned my beloved gay cousin, Khalid has been living with HIV for the past eight years. I was surprised he announced his status on a social media site last week but my cousin has always been known to do things by his own rules.
With the help of antivirals, Khalid is stable and living a very productive life as a singer and songwriter in Atlanta, Georgia. His latest release ‘My Reflection’ is available on iTunes. He even jokes that his T-cell count is higher than Magic Johnson’s. I admire his quest to stand in his authenticity and I pray all of us will strive to learn to stand in our truth.
Next week, for the 25th time, we will observe World AIDS Day. For a quarter of a century we have come together to raise awareness and reflect on the millions who have died, and the millions who continue to live with HIV. This year’s theme is “Getting to Zero,” which means zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS-related deaths and that’s the goal. The only way to do that is for the people who are infected with HIV to know their status and for them not to spread it to someone else. That’s the key.
Since the first cases of AIDS were documented in the early 1980s, http://www.AIDS.gov reports about 1.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with HIV. Of those, about 1.2 million currently are living with HIV, with more than 619,000 having succumbed to the disease, which in its late stages severely affects one’s immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five people who are HIV positive are unaware of their health status. All of us are responsible to know our status. Don’t confuse frequent blood testing for other health problems with blood testing for HIV. It’s a special blood test that has to be order separate from diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid, cancer, and the normal STD screening.
Public health experts are turning the focus on teens and young adults who make up a remarkably high proportion of HIV infections in the U.S. The CDC noted that because the overall rate of HIV infection among African-Americans is high — almost eight times that of whites — young black people can be more likely to become infected and to transmit HIV. In 2010, about 57 percent of new infections occurred among blacks. “Because of this disparity, black/African American youths are at higher risk for infection even with similar levels of risk behaviors,” the CDC report said.
Should You Get an HIV Test?
The following are behaviors that increase your chances of getting HIV. If you answer yes to any of them, you should definitely get an HIV test. If you continue with any of these behaviors, you should be tested every year. Talk to a health care provider about an HIV testing schedule that is right for you.
· Have you injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, works) with others?
· Have you had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners?
· Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
· Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), like syphilis?
· Have you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions?
If you have had sex with someone whose history of sex partners and/or drug use is unknown to you or if you or your partner has had many sex partners, then you have more of a chance of being infected with HIV. Both you and your new partner should get tested for HIV, and learn the results, before having sex for the first time.
For women who plan to become pregnant, testing is even more important. If a woman is infected with HIV, medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of passing HIV to her baby. All women who are pregnant should be tested during each pregnancy.
As an advocate for testing and prevention, I caution you to know the truth about your health status so you can stay healthy. Prevention—both biomedical and behavioral—is the best hope for reducing HIV infection. Get tested and tell someone you love to get tested too. World AIDS day is December 1st, please wear your red ribbons in support.
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