As many as one in four people who have HIV don't know it. Today, there are many testing options that are fast and convenient, which begs the question, why don't more people know their HIV status?
The answer may be that some people simply choose not to find out. For many, the thought of the disease is too frightening. They may harbor the misconception that an HIV diagnosis is a death sentence. Some worry that a positive diagnosis might impact their job, health insurance, or even relationships. Providers must continually educate about the importance of HIV testing, early detection and treatment. This is particularly true for pregnant women. For many women, pregnancy may be the only time in their young adult lives when they access healthcare services on a regular basis. It therefore presents an excellent opportunity not only to screen for HIV, but also to educate about the dangers of the virus and advise about behaviors that reduce the risk.
HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. HIV is the virus that destroys the immune system. AIDS is the last stage of the infection cased by HIV. A person can live with HIV for a long time and never develop AIDS
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that all pregnant women be tested for HIV as part of their normal prenatal care. HIV can be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy, labor or breastfeeding. North Carolina law requires that:
Testing in pregnancy allows for the mother's infection to be identified and treated. Treatment during pregnancy will help reduce the risk that she will pass the virus on to her baby. Treatment is most effective for babies when started as early as possible during pregnancy. With treatment, less than 2 out of 100 babies born to women who have HIV will be infected. Without treatment, about 25 out of 100 babies will be infected. If she takes no preventive drugs and breastfeeds, then the chance of her baby becoming infected is around 20-45%.
There is growing concern about the impact of HIV/AIDS in the South. In 2006, five of the top 10 states reporting the most new AIDS cases were in the South. North Carolina was among them. It is estimated that more than 33,000 people are living with HIV or AIDS in North Carolina; with 25 percent of the state's HIV disease reports coming from rural areas.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, 1,943 new individuals were reported with HIV in 2007. This is consistent with North Carolina'’s on-going average of more than 1,900 new reports annually. Approximately 30 percent of those reports represent new AIDS cases. This significant proportion of late diagnoses (i.e., AIDS) indicates the need for increased HIV testing within North Carolina.
We know that HIV is disproportionately distributed among the state’s population. The 2007 rate of HIV infection for non-Hispanic blacks was more than seven times greater than for whites and the rate for Hispanics was three and half times that for whites. But the largest disparity is found when comparing white and black females. The HIV infection rate for black females is 16 times higher than that for white females.
Don't let the women you treat be lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to HIV. The sad truth is women in North Carolina are being infected with the virus at very high rates. A simple, confidential test can put her fears to rest, or provide her with the information she needs to take charge of her health. If she's pregnant, knowing her HIV status will allow her to get the treatment she needs to reduce the risk of passing on HIV to her baby. Make sure women have the information they need to make important decisions that could save their life and the life of their baby.
Source: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (10/08)
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