The human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, remains one of the most significant public health challenges in the world. The virus, which can develop into AIDS, still has no cure. It is contracted mainly through engaging in unprotected sex, sharing contaminated drug needles, or through birth by an infected mother.

When actor Charlie Sheen confirmed on NBC’s The Today Show on Nov. 17 that he was HIV positive, he stated he would work to help find a cure. With Sheen’s announcement, basketball icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a longtime HIV survivor, reached out to the actor on Twitter to help educate the world about reducing the spread of HIV. “I wish @CharlieSheen and his family the best. With the advancement in treatments and medicine he can fight this disease and live a long life,” Johnson wrote in his tweet. While Sheen and other celebrities like Johnson have been successful in reducing the virus’ detection in their bloodstream, the average victim does not have access to such intensive care—including the money to pay for long-term treatment and medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 37 million people living with HIV in the world, with new cases being discovered daily. However, only 51 percent of people with HIV know their infection status because testing is not available

African Americans have the highest rate of HIV cases compared to any other ethnicity or race in the United States, the CDC reports. In 2010, African Americans accounted for an estimated 44 percent of all new HIV infections among adults and children aged 13 years or older, despite only being 12-percent of the U.S. population. An estimated 1-in-16 African American men, and 1-in-32 African American women, will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lives, the CDC states.

Lack of awareness of one’s HIV status can affect HIV rates in the black community. A late diagnosis of HIV is common in the black community, which prevents an individual from seeking medical attention and increases the likelihood of them spreading the virus, according to experts in Xavier University’s Public Health program.

“The main thing we know now that we did not know before is how it is transmitted and who’s more at risk for the virus,” said Dr. Krista D. Mincey, an assistant professor of Public Health. “At first, everyone assumed it was just homosexual white men, but now we know that is not the case because ofhow it is spread. The first group who is more at risk after African
American men are heterosexual African American women.

“HIV is no longer a death sentence, though, due to advances in medicine today and proper research,” Mincey added. It could take years for an infected patient to develop full blown AIDS. A patient can still live a regular life as long as the virus is maintained with proper medication and antiretroviral therapies, which slow down the progression and spread of the virus, health experts say. Sean Sylve, a junior Public Health major here at Xavier, said he has a strong interest in HIV research because of the high number of cases in Louisiana.

He has conducted research on how the risk of heart attacks increases with the length of HIV infection, regardless of the infected persons’ age. His research was part of an internship conducted with primary care physician Dr. Ronald Wilcox at Crescent Care New Orleans this semester.“Anyone who is HIV positive should definitely get rid of bad habits such as smoking, and add exercise and a great diet to their lifestyle,” Sylve said. Such changes are important for allowing those affected by the virus to live long lives, despite an HIV diagnosis, he added.

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