It can happen to you: How much do you really know about HIV?

by Lauren Carter

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) – More that 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV today, according to studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Every 9 ½ minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with HIV, however 21 percent of those infected are unaware of their status.

HIV and AIDS are not the same thing.  HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus, which can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.  Getting tested for HIV is essential to HIV prevention, treatment, and care, as said by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Photo from "Spread the Truth, Not The Disease" HIV awareness poster campaign 2009

Studies done by the CDC have shown that those who learn they are HIV positive will modify behavior to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, and early knowledge of HIV status can reduce morbidity and improve one’s quality of life.

In 2009, 30 percent of young adults, ages 19 to 29, reported that they had been tested for HIV in the past 12 months, according to surveys done by the KFF.  Many people are diagnosed with HIV late in their illness, sometimes as little as one year before receiving an AIDS diagnosis.

Young adults and teens, between the ages of 13 and 29, accounted for 34 percent of new HIV infections in 2006, according to the KFF. Most young people in this age range are infected sexually.  In 2007, over 61,000 young people were estimated to be living with HIV in the United States, as found by the CDC.

It is recommended by the CDC that routine HIV screenings are done by all adults aged 13 to 64.  Most HIV infection tests detect the presence of antibodies produced by the body to fight HIV, according to the KFF.  Screening tests include conventional blood tests, conventional oral fluid tests, rapid tests, home tests, and urine tests.

Geographically, the South has the highest percentage of persons infected with HIV, new AIDS diagnoses, and persons living with AIDS, as found by the CDC.  About 100 people test positive for HIV in Southeast Tennessee each year, according to information from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.  More than 1,400 people living with the HIV/AIDS virus in Hamilton County, as found by Chattanooga CARES, a non-profit resource for education, prevention, and support for all people affected by HIV.

Students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have varying opinions on HIV and AIDS awareness on campus.  When asked what causes a lack of awareness on campus, some students say it’s the mindset of the college aged population.

Photo from "Spread the Truth, Not The Disease" HIV awareness poster campaign 2009

“I don’t think that people think about [HIV] unless someone they’re close to is affected by it or they themselves is infected by it,” Becky Pike, a junior at UTC, said.  “I don’t think about it at all.  I mean when I see a poster, I feel like I just kind of walk past it, because we don’t know that there are that many people infected.”

Lee Reece, a junior at UTC, said, “We’re so self-involved with other things, and I think we’re kind of a happy-go-luck group and prefer to ignore the negative things [in life].”

Students believe that awareness should be increased on campus with help from existing student organizations, as well as awareness health classes.

“I think health classes could help [improve awareness], but they’re not required for everybody to take,” Reece said.   “Maybe more group sponsorship of stuff on campus.  There are people out there supporting it, but on campus they might need to have some groups that are more active in creating awareness.”

Ali McKenzie, a senior at UTC, said, “The only thing I’ve ever seen [about the disease] was on the back of bathroom doors.”

Chattanooga CARES offers opportunities for HIV educational programs and workshops for 23 counties in Tennessee.  Free and confidential rapid HIV testing is also offered by the organization, with a primary cares clinic available for those already infected with HIV or AIDS.  Chattanooga CARES also creates volunteer opportunities for those wanting to get involved in the area’s HIV and AIDS community, including the annual Strides of March benefit.

A cure has still not been found for HIV and AIDS.  HIV testing and awareness education are the best prevention tools that are readily available until a cure is found.

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