Once infected with HIV, there is no cure.
The rate of new HIV infections in African-Americans is seven times as high as whites. African-Americans also account for almost half of all new infections, despite being only 14 percent of the U.S. population. HIV is the third leading cause of death for African-American men and women ages 35 to 44.
These statistics are improved compared to the late 1980s, but have remained steady since then.
Experts believe several factors are involved with the continuing disparity.
Since there are such high numbers of African-Americans with HIV already, each time two African-Americans have sex with one other, the risk of passing on HIV is that much greater.
HIV likes to travel with other sexually transmitted diseases. So, since young black men and women have higher rates of other sexually transmitted diseases compared to whites, that also increases the chances.
What is unclear is the connection between lower socioeconomic levels and HIV infection, as well as the stigmas around HIV and homosexuality.
HOW IT KILLS
HIV kills when it weakens the immune system to the point of developing AIDS— or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and the person is no longer to able to fight off infection. HIV is a virus and has to live inside of a cell in order to reproduce. In the case of HIV, it prefers immune system fighter cells, ultimately destroying them and the ability for those cells to fight infection.
A person can become infected by sexual intercourse, sharing drug needles, blood transfusions and mother to child. Blood transfusions now screen for HIV and other contagious diseases better than decades ago, and is less of a concern. Mother-to-child transmission can be decreased significantly if the mother takes HIV medications. As HIV multiplies within the fighter cells, the cells are destroyed.
When first infected with HIV, the symptoms can feel like a flu-like illness.
If left untreated, HIV can weaken the immune system until it becomes AIDS. On average, an untreated person has eight to ten years before AIDS develops. People infected with HIV often die from a major infection or cancer in the setting of a weakened immune system.
Even when the initial symptoms resolve and the person feels well, the infection never goes away. Oral medications can suppress the amount of virus produced but there is no cure for HIV or AIDS.
HOW CAN WE OVERCOME IT
Always have protected sexual intercourse, even when pregnancy is not a concern.
Get screened for HIV. There are rapid tests and often free at public health departments and certain community health centers.
Get screened for other sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas,
Tell your partner about your HIV status. Encourage him or her to also be tested regularly and prior to sexual intercourse.
Avoid intravenous drug use like heroin, especially sharing needles.
Once you have been diagnosed with HIV, select a treatment plan earlier in the course and take your medications regularly. A study of 1,700 heterosexual couples where one partner was HIV-positive. Researchers found that taking HIV medications decreased the risk of HIV transmission to their partners by 96 percent.
HOW OTHERS ARE HELPING US BE HEALTHY
Researchers are now investigating the benefits of an HIV Vaccine that can stop transmission of the virus between partners.