Year-round action: Prevention of HIV/AIDS deserves vigilance

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The rate of HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans is so high that it deserves to be an ongoing health concern, something worthy of awareness beyond a single day of the year. With that in mind, five organizations funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have dubbed today National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to spur individuals and agencies to think year-round about the dread disease and its consequences.

The statistics for new HIV/AIDS infections among African Americans continues to confound those who study the disease's remorseless trek across a diverse population. In Pennsylvania, blacks are 10 percent of the population but an astonishing 50 percent of those infected with the virus. Nationally, the infection rate among blacks is eight times higher than among whites.

According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control survey, black males have the highest infection rate in the country, with 103.6 per 100,000 individuals. Black women are at 38.1, slightly below Hispanic males at 45.5. With far lower infection rates are white males, 15.8; Hispanic females, 8.0; and white females, 1.9. This is a catastrophe because HIV/AIDS can be easily prevented through reasonable caution. Most at risk are sexually active people who don't use prophylactics and drug users who exchange dirty needles and bodily fluids.

There is also a stigma still associated with the disease that discourages people who may suspect that they're infected from getting themselves checked out. Those who are infected, but don't want to know, believe they have "deniability" if a future sex partner asks if they test positive for the virus.

One of the goals of Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is to encourage as many people as possible to get tested. Detecting the disease early and seeking treatment for it will cut down on the number of people who are infected. Because the symptoms of HIV/AIDS aren't noticeable early on, thousands of unsuspecting carriers of the virus are infecting their partners.

This disease is no respecter of race, gender or economic status. There is no rational reason why any particular group should be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Treatment and education are available to all without prejudice. This is a plague that could end if everyone takes it seriously every day, not just once a year.

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