In 1981, the news first broke. A report of a nameless but deadly disease in a handful of men in New York City and Los Angeles, California. Today that handful has become more than a million people living with the virus called HIV in the United States. Over the last quarter of a century, more than twenty-five million people around the world have died. That includes more than five hundred thousand Americans.
Of the more than one million people in the United States with HIV, about one quarter have no idea they have the virus. They have not yet been diagnosed… and may be spreading the disease because they don’t know they have it.
An estimated forty thousand Americans become infected with HIV every year. Although African-American men and women are hardest hit by the disease in the United States, anyone and everyone are vulnerable. All women are particularly vulnerable, making up nearly a third of all HIV diagnoses in 2004. People under the age of twenty-five are also vulnerable.
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. In the twenty-five years since the disease first made news, the only cure we have is prevention. Stopping the spread of the disease and reducing the number of people who become infected is currently the only way to control it. A variety of HIV prevention strategies are in place, from a variety of public and private organizations:
- Offering prevention and care education
- Encouraging early diagnosis
- Linking prevention and treatment programs
- Working on prevention in high-risk areas and high-risk populations
- Researching prevention methods
- Researching treatments and cures
So what is HIV? It is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids that contain white blood cells. You can get the disease from having unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected person; by sharing drug injection equipment; by receiving infected blood in a transfusion before March of 1985. The virus can also be passed through transplanted organs from infected donors, and can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
The virus targets certain cells in the immune system. Over time, as the virus progresses, your body becomes unable to target and fight off diseases. Once the immune system is compromised, common organisms can become deadly. AIDS is considered the severest form of the human immunodeficiency virus, when the body only has 14% of its immune system working.