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Deadly disease in the spotlight tomorrow

Minnesota will commemorate World AIDS Day tomorrow - Wednesday, Dec. 1 for the 23rd consecutive year.

A variety of HIV testing and public awareness events have been planned for the day and through the month of December in Minnesota (a partial listing is below). The purpose of World AIDS Day is to call attention to the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic and the 33.4 million people estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS. More than 200 countries worldwide annually observe World AIDS Day.

"World AIDS Day reminds us that we can never let down our guard when it comes to HIV/AIDS," said Peter Carr, director of the STD and HIV Section, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). "With 7,400 persons worldwide infected each day, World AIDS Day provides us with an opportunity to heighten the awareness that AIDS is still here, there is no cure or vaccine, and we need to stay committed to prevention, treatment, and care 365 days a year."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 56,300 new HIV cases occur in the U.S. each year and that more than 1 million Americans are currently living with HIV. Recently, a dangerous trend has emerged among persons between the ages of 13 and 24 who are being infected by HIV more so than ever before.

"In Minnesota, the number of new HIV cases increased by 13 percent in 2009, marking a 17-year high with 370 HIV cases reported," said Carr. "The increase was driven primarily by a large increase among males 15 to 24 years of age - matching the trend seen at the national level."

Since 1982, 9,163 people in Minnesota have been diagnosed with HIV infection, and 3,056 of them have died. Currently, an estimated 6,552 people are reported to be living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota, including those who moved to Minnesota after they were diagnosed in other states. The state has averaged over 300 HIV infections annually over the past decade.

The most recent data in Minnesota show men and women of color and men who have sex with men continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. About 48 percent of all new cases reported in 2009 were among persons of color. Statewide rates for African Americans and Latinos are about 11 and 6 times greater, respectively, than whites. Rates for African-born individuals are 19 to 26 times greater than for whites. Cases among men who have sex with men accounted for 56 percent of all new HIV infections reported in 2009.

MDH data also show that about one in three persons diagnosed in 2009 were considered 'late testers' indicating that they already had AIDS or developed AIDS within a year after being tested," said Carr. An AIDS diagnosis usually occurs after being infected with HIV for five to ten years. Late testing may be due tocultural and language barriers, social stigmas, and limited access to health resources and care.

"Although there still is no cure or vaccine, HIV infection remains highly preventable," said Carr. Ways to prevent or reduce the spread of HIV include avoiding or delaying the start of sexual activity, limiting the number of sexual partners, using latex condoms consistently and correctly, avoiding the sharing of needles or equipment to tattoo, body pierce or inject drugs, and knowing your HIV status.

To help provide dates and locations for prevention education and free testing opportunities, the MDH website offers a calendar of events at:

World AIDS Day has been held annually since 1988 under the sponsorship of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and recently through the organization, World AIDS Campaign.