HIV/AIDS: Still Here, Still Preventable
World AIDS Day is December 1, 2013
NASHVILLE– The world changed dramatically in 1981. IBM sold its first personal computer loaded with MS DOS software. The space shuttle Columbia made its inaugural flight. MTV brought music videos into living rooms. Just when it appeared technology was making life better for nearly everyone, doctors in San Francisco, Calif. were baffled by an illness that defied all known treatment. That frightening, incurable disease would soon become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
In the more than three decades since AIDS emerged as a deadly threat, health officials have watched a roller-coaster of public fear and understanding about it. David Reagan, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health, said while some shifts have been good, others are troublesome.
“It’s good we have more accurate information about AIDS, including its causes, effects and treatments but it is disturbing that too many people have become complacent about it,” he said. “When we look at the alarming rate of new cases in some Tennessee counties, we believe there are many who don’t understand how it can change and end lives.”
In 2012, the Tennessee counties with the highest number of new Human Immunodeficiency Virus cases were Shelby with 413 and Davidson with 169. In the other 93 counties combined, there were 341 cases. By the end of 2012, a total of 19,038 Tennesseans were diagnosed with HIV, which can damage the immune system and lead to AIDS.
“While there have been advances in drugs and treatments, there is still no cure for HIV or AIDS,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “Once you have HIV or AIDS, you can only try to manage it as a chronic disease with costly medicines that may help some people more than others. We encourage people to be tested to know if they are infected, and to avoid the risky behaviors that can lead to HIV infection.”
“All of us need to know our HIV status definitively,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “It’s not enough to hope we don’t need treatment or that we won’t transmit it to others. We need to know, and it is easier than ever to be tested.”
There are numerous locations across the state offering free or low-cost testing, including Tennessee’s county health department clinics. To find an HIV testing site near you, go to www.cdc.gov/hiv/prevention/index.html.
According to federal statistics, every nine and a half minutes another person in the U.S. is infected with HIV. While many of the early victims were homosexual men, more than one-fourth of new HIV infections today involve heterosexuals. Unprotected sex and injection drug users sharing needles still account for the majority of new cases.
“The distressing number of new HIV/AIDS cases we are seeing tells us there is not enough understanding about prevention,” Reagan said. “Discussing sexual activity may be uneasy for some parents and community leaders, but we need to have those talks to stem the rising tide of new infections. The physical and emotional toll for individuals, along with the economic healthcare costs to our state and nation, are too significant to be ignored. HIV/AIDS affects all of us in one way or another, and we must all work together to ensure fewer people are hurt by it and to assist those who have been infected.”
For more information about HIV and AIDS, go to www.cdc.gov/hiv/.
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.