Florida now has the highest number of new HIV cases in America, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Florida’s extensive program of HIV prevention, testing and education has fallen short. Education is mostly done at community events where HIV testing takes place. It is barely mentioned in the schools, media, at home or even among friends and students.
Today’s youth are the fastest growing segment of new infections, and when educated about HIV, their response is often “If you get it, you can take a pill.”
In most cases, treatment is limited to one pill a day; HIV-positive persons are subject to early onset of other conditions expedited by a compromised immune system and years of medicine.
Today, an HIV person and compliant/adherent to medical care and medicine can achieve an undetectable viral load and live a long, productive life.
The caveat is this: You must take the test: A simple finger-stick test is antibody driven, 98.6% accurate with results in 15 minutes. Or the Fourth Generation Assay is a full-blood draw that generates results in about two weeks.
Fear, alienation, stigma, discrimination, “what are others going to think” prevents a person from taking the test and getting or staying in treatment. Getting tested too late can increase your chances of progressing to full blown AIDS and also perpetuate the spread of the virus unknowingly to others.
Death from AIDS is way down, while HIV is on the rise. Today, about 50,000 people are infected with HIV every year in the United States; one out of seven do not know they are infected because they were never tested.
If you know someone who is infected or engaged in risky behavior, encourage them to take the test and get into or stay in care. Family, friends, loved ones and the community depend on that.
Anyone can get infected. It is not who you are, It is what you do. HIV is transmitted via four modes: 1) direct blood-to-blood (includes sharing needles); 2) sexual fluids; 3) vaginal birth; and 4) breast feeding. Multiple sex partners, unprotected sex and sharing needles put one at a greater risk for transmitting or getting HIV; an STD increases the chance of getting HIV.
Sweat, tears, saliva, insect bites cannot transmit the virus.
The CDC has awarded millions of dollars to Florida for HIV prevention, education and testing, yet new infections are climbing.
January to June 2015 statistics just released show 81 new HIV cases in Sarasota/Manatee, a 23% increase from the same period last year. AIDS deaths are down 17%, continuing the downward trend. But still, much needs to be done.
To find a location for HIV testing in your area or anywhere in the United States, go to www.hivtest.org or contact your county health department.
HIV is no longer a death sentence. It is a chronic care manageable disease. I should know. I have been living with HIV for more than 20 years. Life is good.
Michael A. Kehoe is CEO and director of HIV Prevention and Education
CARES Outreach Services Inc., 24 N. Lime Ave., Sarasota FL 34237.