More than a million Americans have HIV and the Center for Disease Control estimates that about 12 percent of these people don’t even know they’re affected.
Feb 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The point of the day is to get more black Americans discussing the sexually transmitted disease, the importance of testing and being sexually safe in general.
“We don’t talk about this kind of thing often but we have to because when you combine this with our poor access to health it can spell really bad things for our people,” said Dr. Juanita Bryant, a NYC-based doctor. “Already, we don’t talk about sex and sexuality. This puts our youth at risk.”
Bryant is referring to the lack of communication that’s common in black families when it comes to sex. And when it comes to sexuality, particularly if you’re gay, this talk can get you kicked out of the home. Just this week, Open Mic Rochester reported that black LGBT youth are not only more likely to become homeless due to family rejection, but also more likely to stay homeless.
You probably don’t hear much about HIV/AIDS anymore but that doesn’t mean it’s not still around, said Bryant. The sexually transmitted disease reached peaks in the mid-1980s. It primarily affected the LGBT community at first and as a result of this, many advocates believe it was initially swept under the rug.
New cases have reduced by 66 percent and more knowledge and better healthcare means diagnosis isn’t automatically a death sentence but you must get tested early, says the CDC:
“Far too many people are diagnosed too late to fully bene t from life-extending treatment. Among those initially diagnosed with HIV infection during 2014, one-quarter (23 percent) were simultaneously diagnosed with AIDS, indicating they were likely infected for many years without knowing it.”
In 2015, the latest year data is available, approximately 17,670 African Americans received a diagnosis of HIV infection. Black Americans are listed as the third most likely to get infected with HIV, after men who have sex with men and drug (injection) users. Black Americans make up roughly half of new cases, but just a little over 12 percent of the general population.
“At some point in their lives, approximately one in 20 black men will be diagnosed with HIV, as will one in 48 black women,” states the CDC.
“It’s scary,” said Bryant. “I think when something is scary, we want to ignore it or run away but if you do that with HIV/AIDS you can set yourself up for a worst future trying to treat it. Do yourself a favor and know your status.”
Want to get tested? It’s free and relatively quick. Here are clinics near you
One thing to keep in mind? HIV can take a while to show up, meaning if you get tested and don’t immediately test positive you’re not automatically in the clear. Experts recommend getting tested again three months later and to stay in the habit of regular testing regardless of your sexual history and relationship status.