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Battling AIDS in 2018 is different than three decades ago. The public stigma of the disease as somehow unique to homosexuals has not evaporated, but the reality is clear. These days, particularly in places such as The T&D Region, AIDS and the HIV infection are serious health problems among heterosexual as well as homosexual adults. And African-Americans are being disproportionately affected.

Knowing the facts about HIV and AIDS is an important part of understanding risks and fighting the disease.

According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, during 2015-2016, 1,505 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in South Carolina.

As of Dec. 31, 2016, there were 18,997 residents of the state living with a diagnosis of HIV, including AIDS.

DHEC’s Low Country Public Health Region reported a total of 3,786 HIV/AIDS cases, with a rate of 771 cases per 100,000 people. The region includes Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties, along with the counties of Allendale, Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton and Jasper.

Orangeburg County’s rate is 506 cases per 100,000 people; Bamberg has a rate of 107 cases per 100,000; and Calhoun County has roughly 38 cases per 100,000 people.

African-Americans comprise 28 percent of the state’s total population, yet 69 percent of the total people living with HIV are African-American.

HIV-infected people are the No. 1 priority population for HIV prevention services in South Carolina, according to DHEC. A key component of prevention is getting people to know their AIDS/HIV status, since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says one in five Americans is unaware of his/her positive status.

During the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the government recommended AIDS screening only in big cities and among members of high-risk groups, such as gay men and drug addicts. That changed with studies showing routine testing for nearly all adults would reduce new infections and offer the opportunity to start patients on treatment early.

At the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, DHEC is encouraging South Carolinians to get tested. The 2018 World AIDS Day theme is "Know Your Status.”

"Every county in the state has residents living with HIV, but many South Carolinians remain unaware of their HIV status because they have not received an HIV test," said Ali Mansaray, director of DHEC's STD, HIV, and Viral Hepatitis Division.

DHEC offers testing at county health departments. You can schedule an appointment by calling 855-4-SCDHEC (855-472-3432).

According to the CDC, an estimated 90 percent of new HIV infections in the United States could be prevented by testing and diagnosing people who have HIV and ensuring they receive prompt, ongoing care and treatment.

As Mansaray says, "Early detection through testing remains essential to successfully identifying and treating the disease, and helping to end the epidemic.”

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