More AIDS cases in the South - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

More AIDS cases in the South

April 26, 2006

Albany--  More than 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV or AIDS. Although it was once considered a big-city disease, there are more new cases in the South.

Southern states like Florida, Louisiana and Georgia have moved into the top ten with reported AIDS cases. Although states like New York and California have the most AIDS patients, some argue they also receive the most federal money to deal with the disease. Here in Albany, advocates say even bigger than funding is knowing.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to affect thousands each year, impacting states and college campuses. "It's such an undercover disease. So many people have it but they don't know that they have it," says ASU student Jessica Johnson.

Along with normal college life activity, a scary thought for students is contracting the disease. "It's sad to see newborn kids coming into the world with AIDS and people spreading and not knowing. I think it's a sad epidemic," says ASU student Marcus Hines. And it's an epidemic that's become more prevalent in the South and among minorities.

"Probably because we're miseducated about it," says Johnson.

"I think that people are just not aware of their risk," says ASU Student Health Services Director Brenda Williams.

ASU Student Health Services Director Brenda Williams says a key to reducing the risk and the number of new cases is as simple as getting tested. "There's a stigma associated with testing as well as a fear," says Williams. A fear that can be calmed with just a swab of the mouth.

Although more people are getting tested, out of 15 districts, this area ranks 4th for the number of AIDS cases. Williams says that's the reason we need continued federal funding. "We really see the need that we need to have the testing program here. We need to have it on campus," says Williams.

Another need is more education. A big number of people still see it as a gay white-male disease. "I hope we can put that myth to rest. We're seeing more and more of infections among our African-American females from heterosexual contact," says Williams.

Many continue to think they're immune or safe. "A few of my friends call it the Superman syndrome. They think it can't happen to me but obviously you can tell it spreads a lot with the male and no one's invisible," says Hines. But visible are the numbers, something that can be reduced with precautions or simply knowing.

It isn't just minorities. Adolescents, middle-aged women and even people over 55 continue to get the disease. Congress is working to amend the Ryan White CARE act of 1990. It gives about 2-billion dollars a year to states for health care, drugs and other aid.

They're trying to find a way to distribute that money more evenly.

Albany State University's Student Health Services will have "Splendor in the Grass" Thursday at the school. People can get free HIV testing along with games, prizes and food.

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