Area increases AIDS awareness

By Denise Zajkowski

About 40 million people are living with HIV or AIDS worldwide, one million of which are Americans. World AIDS Day was created to bring more awareness to the growing epidemic.

This year’s theme is “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise.” The annual event, which occurred Thursday, aims at encouraging people to help fight the causes of HIV and AIDS through education and by encouraging people to get tested if they believe they are at risk.

“This year’s theme is a little different. People are needed so the [U.S.] government will keep [its] promise to care about those with HIV and AIDS by providing money and resources in Africa,” said Brad Daehn, DeKalb County Health Department presentation specialist.

Daehn said World AIDS Day also is a way to raise awareness in DeKalb. “[AIDS] happens everywhere, including in DeKalb,” Daehn said.

According to the DeKalb Health Department, seven people in the DeKalb area were diagnosed in 2005 with HIV or AIDS.

Because there has never been a known case of immunity, Daehn said people should not take AIDS lightly.

“I think some people have forgotten about AIDS because it doesn’t seem like a major issue, as it used to be, and better medications were developed that keep people with AIDS alive longer,” he said. “But it’s still here.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a quarter of those infected with HIV don’t know they’ve contracted the disease.

Daehn encourages others to educate themselves on the subject of HIV and AIDS and to get tested if they believe they are at risk. “The health department gives free anonymous HIV testing,” Daehn said.

And NIU Health Enhancement is continuing to try to educate students about STDs and AIDS. “The attitude around here is that every day is World AIDS Day. We keep people aware of it all year long,” said Steve Lux, health educator at Health Enhancement.

Lux said Health Enhancement particularly focuses on safer sex techniques and believes students are protecting themselves well.

“Students do a good job with prevention and from other more common STD infections as well,” Lux said.

However, Lux said students should continue to be concerned about HIV if they are sexually active.

“While the risk of contracting HIV may be lower than other STDs, it is the most devastating,” she said.

Jennifer Ruth, a spokeswoman for the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, said students should be concerned about AIDS because of information compiled on STD statistics.

“America’s youth continue to be significantly and disproportionately impacted by STDs,” Ruth said. “Approximately 18.9 million cases of STDs were estimated to have occurred in 2000, and nearly half of those were among 15 to 24-year-olds.”