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November 28, 2008 3:34 am

AIDS still is a health crisis

Written by Tribune Staff

Monday is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day.

The purpose of this day is to bring renewed attention to the global epidemic — a worldwide health crisis that seems to have faded in the American public's eye.

In the 1980s, when the virus was first discovered, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. Now, with new medications that slow the progress of infection, and even suppress the virus, infected people can live relatively normal, disease-free lives.

Better treatment options, however, have led to a more permissive attitude toward behaviors that put people at risk of contracting the disease. Frankly, many people just aren't as scared of the specter of AIDS as they were 20 years ago.

An article early this week in the Casper Star-Tribune quotes Laurie Johnson, who works with the federally-funded Early Intervention Services, as saying, “It's not a hot topic anymore. People don't hear about it. They don't think about it so they don't use protection.”

Even here in Wyoming, where the total number of cases is relatively low — 166 people in the state were living with AIDS at the end of 2007 — the rate of new infections is increasing.

Education still is a critical component — and early testing is crucial. Anyone potentially infected with HIV/AIDS should be tested, both to avoid spreading the disease and to increase longevity. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine HIV testing for nearly all people in the U.S. Free tests are available, year-round, at the family planning offices in Park County.

Even after this year's World AIDS Day is in the past, we can't afford to forget about this disease.