World AIDS Day: Louisiana stats alarming

World AIDS Day: Louisiana stats alarming

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Tuesday is World Aids Day. In Louisiana, more than 1,200 new HIV cases were diagnosed in 2009. Close to another 800 new AIDS cases were diagnosed during the same period.

Some experts say not many think it could really happen to them.

"Just because of the stigma, and the fear associated with HIV. And some of the taboo ways that it's contracted," says Charlette Edwards of Louisiana Paths.

"Not knowing how HIV is transmitted is part of the problem. When you look at the routes of transmission, it's blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk," says Brett Malone.

Malone is the director of the Philadelphia Center in Shreveport.

"People have, I think, grown a little complacent maybe, and have a false sense of security, thinking that it's no longer an issue," he explained.

Outreach Educator Brandon Graham says it's amazing what reasons people give to not get tested, "thinking that it's going to hurt. And not knowing that they might even be at risk."

KSLA News 12's Troy Washington took the test while she was at the Philadelphia Center. She described it as quick and painless. 20 minutes after she was swabbed, the results were in, and luckily she is negative.

But for a growing number of people in the region, that's not the case. In fact, there were 115 new cases in the region last year alone.

"Louisiana, as a state, has risen to number four in the nation for new HIV infections. So we've actually gotten worse over the last two years," Malone says.

According to Louisiana's Office of Public Health, three quarters of both the newly diagnosed HIV cases, and AIDS cases are among blacks. Charlette Edwards says she thinks it's largely from a lack of communication.

"We don't talk about homosexuality. We don't talk about sex. We don't talk about drug use," said Edwards.

Zekida Johnson takes the seat that many people dread sitting in.

"I've actually lost friends to this disease, I've lost friends to it that were aware, and I've lost friends to it that weren't aware," said Johnson.

Johnson says she prefers to know her status. No matter how scary the thought can be.

"If you're married, you're single, you're transgender, you should want to know where you stand with it," said Johnson.

In Louisiana alone 20, 272 people are living with HIV/AIDS.

"You can't look at someone and determine their status," added Johnson.

Johnson is the mother of three teenagers and she says as the number continues to grow, she worries for her children.

"They think they're Iron Man. They think that because they're so young it can't get to them," said Johnson.

The Philadelphia Center in Shreveport encourages people to know their status. The center provided free testing to dozens of people on Tuesday.

"Only one in five people who are infected realize they are infected," said Bobby Darrow.

Long term AIDs survivor Bobby Darrow, was the first director of the Philadelphia Center and is one of the founding members of ACT-UP Shreveport, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the disease.  He says progress has been made but must continue.

Experts say early detection is key, knowing your status early can lead to a normal life.

Here's a list of resources for HIV testing and treatment.

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