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Melody Mendiola Special to the NNPA from Insight News
Published: 14 June 2010

(NNPA) - HIV and AIDS have disproportionately affected the African-American population. Of the estimated one million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. today, roughly half are Black. Yet, as a racial group, African-Americans represent just 13 percent of the population. The lifetime risk of becoming infected with HIV is 1 in 16 for Black males, 1 in 30 for Black females in the U.S., a far greater risk than for White males (1 in 104) and White females (1 in 588).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one out of five people living with HIV in the U.S. are unaware of their HIV status. "NHTD is an opportunity for people nationwide to learn their HIV status, and to gain knowledge to take control of their health and their lives," states the Department of Health & Human Services.
On June 27, the National Association of People with AIDS and local organizations around the country, will sponsor National HIV Testing Day to promote early diagnosis and HIV testing. The effort further raises awareness for the health risks and challenges associated with HIV and AIDS.
In observance of HIV Testing Day, here are a few frequently asked questions and critical reminders for protecting against HIV.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is the germ that can enter the body and eventually cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV attacks the immune system, killing cells of the body that protect against disease.
In advanced stages, a person with HIV may come down with serious diseases, such as a rare kind of pneumonia or some types of cancers. When a person with HIV has one of these diseases, the diagnosis is AIDS.
Even if a person with HIV doesn't look or feel sick, he or she can pass the virus to other people by having unprotected sex or sharing needles for injecting drugs. Pregnant women can also pass HIV to their babies before they are born.
How is HIV spread?
These are the ways of getting HIV:
• Unprotected sex: You can get HIV by having sex with a person who has HIV. This includes vaginal, oral or anal sex. It can be with someone of the opposite sex or the same sex.
• Sharing needles: You also can get HIV by sharing infected needles for drug use, body piercing or tattooing.
• Blood transfusions before 1985. In rare instances, there have been HIV cases traced to blood transfusions before 1985.
• Vertical transmission: A pregnant woman with HIV can pass the infection to the baby, as the baby is exposed to mom's blood during the birthing process. HIV can also be passed through breastfeeding. Fortunately, with good medical care during pregnancy, there is a lot that we can do to prevent this from happening, so it is quite rare now.
There are common myths associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS. You cannot get HIV from:
• Hugging, kissing or shaking hands with a person who has HIV.
• Toilet seats, doorknobs, tables or dishes.
• Insect bites.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
During the initial stages of HIV, symptoms may include:
• Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin
• Fever
• Headache
• Muscle aches and joint pain
• Skin rash
• Sore throat
• Weight loss
• Fatigue
These initial symptoms can range from mild to severe. It often can feel like a flu-like illness. These symptoms usually disappear within a couple weeks. Nonetheless, the HIV virus can continue to multiply, further affecting the immune system's ability to fight the disease.
In more advanced, chronic stages of HIV, several of the following symptoms are present:
• Severe fatigue
• Diarrhea or bowel changes
• Loss of appetite or severe weight loss
• Fever
• Dry cough or shortness of breath
• Night sweats
• Nail changes
• Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin
• Confusion, difficulty concentrating or personality changes
• Pain when swallowing
• Tingling, numbness or weakness in the limbs
• Repeated outbreaks of cold sores or genital herpes
• Mouth sores or a yeast infection in the mouth (thrush)
• More than three yeast infections in a year (when not related to antibiotics)
• Abnormal pap test
Should I be tested for HIV?
You should consider having a blood test for HIV if you have:
• Had vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom
• Shared needles for drugs, piercing or tattoos
• Had a blood transfusion before 1985
Where can I go to be tested for HIV?
Go to www.hivtest.org - To find an HIV testing location near you. For information and resources for National HIV Testing Day and beyond, go to www.napwa.org.

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