On 30th anniversary of AIDS detection, it is no longer a death sentence, but Kentuckians die because they delay testing

Though life expectancy for people living with AIDS has improved, the disease “remains a serious health threat, with Kentucky’s minorities and poor being affected in disproportionate numbers,” reports the Lexington Herald-Leader‘s Mary Meehan.

Part of the problem is the stigma associated with the disease, which was first reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 30 years ago yesterday. It is especially problematic in rural parts of the state. “We have clients in rural areas of Kentucky who hide their medication so if something happens to them, their family members won’t find out,” said Mark Royse, executive director of AVOL, an education- and support-based organization for people living with AIDS.
The stigma is associated with the perception of the disease, which in turn prompts people to avoid being tested. “AIDS was marginalized early on as a ‘gay’ disease,” said Dr. Robert Crosby, an AIDS researcher and chairman of the department of health behavior in the University of Kentucky‘s College of Public Health. “Later, it was associated with drug users, promiscuous heterosexuals or people who live in other countries, such as Africa. “The point to drive home is that a lot of people think of Africa or China or India when they think of AIDS,” Royse said. “This issue is still very real here at home.”
Kentucky ranks 19th in the country for the number of people who have the HIV infection that leads to AIDS, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Health officials say that at least one new HIV infection is discovered each day in Kentucky,” Meehan reports. Nationally, about 20 percent of people who have HIV don’t know they are infected.
The earlier people discover they have HIV, the better the treatment works, but early detection is not commonplace in Kentucky. By the time they are tested for HIV, 30 percent of Kentuckians already have full-blown AIDS. Still, that diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Though at one time 100 percent of Kentuckians infected with HIV died within five years, now 82 percent are alive after the same time period. However, there has been a spike in infection among 18- to 24-year olds, despite early education to avoid unprotected sex. “They say, ‘That person doesn’t look like they have AIDS’,” so decide to have unprotected sex with that person, said Jessica DuMaurier, in charge of the HIV program at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. (Read more)
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