Remain vigilant in fighting HIV

In the 1980s and ’90s, HIV and AIDS dominated headlines. Ryan White became a household name, red ribbons were prevalent and the deaths of Freddie Mercury and Rock Hudson shocked fans, as did the announcement that Magic Johnson had been infected with HIV.

Today, most hear little about the virus and the people it impacts. And while there has been a steady decline in diagnoses as people have taken heed and practiced safer behaviors, the fight isn’t over. HIV and AIDS didn’t die off with those questionable fashion trends of the ’80s and ’90s.

It’s still infecting people.

In 2016, the CDC says 39,782 people in the U.S. received an HIV positive diagnosis and 18,160 people were diagnosed with AIDS.

It’s still deadly.

In 2015, 6,465 people in the U.S. died. That’s about half of the population of Marietta, and those diagnoses could have been prevented.

Since 1987, the first year HIV was listed as the cause of death on death certificates, the death toll in the U.S. has been 507,351 people–more than half a million people who could have led full, healthy lives. Worldwide, the number of deaths has climbed to a staggering 22 million.

HIV can impact anyone, men and women, primarily through sexual activity and using injectable drugs. The latter is why we hope our county officials continue their recent discussion of starting a needle exchange program for those battling addiction. It would exchange used needles for clean ones, helping to prevent the spread of virus and disease, including not only HIV but Hepatitis C, which can live on a needle for 42 days.

For everyone, practicing safe sex is the best way to ensure your safety, and being tested is the best way to ensure the safety of any current or future partners.

Of an estimated 1,222,900 adults and adolescents living with HIV, about 15 percent have not received a diagnosis, according to the CDC. That means they can be unwittingly passing this virus on to others.

Younger people are most likely to be unaware of the infection, with 51 percent of those with HIV in the 13-to-24 age range believed to not know that they have it.

This is why it’s vital to get tested. Getting the test doesn’t mean you’ve participated in risky behavior or made poor choices. It’s simply a way to ensure your safety and health, and that of others. There should be no judgment in getting tested.

On Tuesday, local residents can get that test for free at the Marietta Health Department, 304 Putnam St., as part of a joint effort with the Washington County, Belpre and Portsmouth health departments. The tests–completely confidential–will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome or appointments can be made by calling 740-373-0611, ext. 634. Testing will also be completed for Hepatitis C and Hepatitis A and B vaccines will be available at no cost.

Let’s all remember that HIV rates are declining because of targeted prevention efforts. We must remain vigilant. Getting tested can be the first step in doing that.