Wednesday, December 1, is World AIDS Day, and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) encourages all Mississippians to know their HIV status and learn more about this serious disease.
Nationally, more than 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV. However, one out of every five people living with HIV are unaware of their status. As of December 31, 2009, there were 9,214 Mississippians living with HIV disease; 6,687 reported among African Americans and 2,527 reported among all other races. All Mississippians are encouraged to educate themselves about this serious disease.
AIDS is caused by HIV, which attacks the body’s immune system, leaving its host open to infection. HIV is spread through contact with body fluids, typically through sexual contact, but also through sharing needles for any reason. Once infected, the symptoms can sometimes take years to develop. Although there is no cure for AIDS, people can protect themselves from HIV and AIDS by practicing the ABCs of Smart Behavior: Abstain from sex outside of marriage or a committed relationship, Be faithful to one’s spouse or partner, and Correct and consistent use of condoms in all sexual activity. Of these three precautions, abstinence is the only guaranteed protection from HIV.
MSDH offers free, confidential HIV testing at all county health departments, and the STD/HIV Office health educators work around the state to inform the public about the disease: how it is acquired, its effects, and what can be done to control the disease in their communities. Additionally, Mississippi, like many states, operates an AIDS Drug Assistance Program that is able to assist limited income individuals in getting the medicines they need.
To learn more about preventing HIV infection, or to be tested for the disease, contact your local health department clinic, or call the MSDH toll-free AIDS hotline: 1-800-826-2961 or call the STD/HIV Office, Prevention and Education Branch at (601) 576-7723.