HIV/AIDS: the Impact of the Disease in the Black Community

Spokane Health Dept.

By Robert Williamson

Every time I hear the word disproportionate in conjunction with African Americans I cringe.  The reason is, is the information that follows is never good.  Here are a some examples of what I am talking about:  There are a disproportionate amount of African American males incarcerated, there are a disproportionate amount of African Americans with high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, who are unemployed and live in the filthiest neighborhoods in America.  I am sure you get my drift.  This list is not conclusive.  We have a lot on our plates.  The list just got bigger.  Did you know that we have the largest rates of people who are newly infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?  The following information comes from the Center of Disease Control.

Fast Facts

  • African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV.
  • In 2009, African Americans comprised 14% of the US population but accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections.
  • Young African American gay and bisexual men are especially at risk of HIV infection.

The Numbers

New HIV Infections

  • In 2009, black men accounted for 70% of the estimated new HIV infections among all blacks. The estimated rate of new HIV infection for black men was more than six and a half times as high as that of white men, and two and a half times as high as that of Latino men or black women.
  • In 2009, black men who have sex with men (MSM)1 represented an estimated 73% of new infections among all black men, and 37% among all MSM. More new HIV infections occurred among young black MSM (aged 13–29) than any other age and racial group of MSM. In addition, new HIV infections among young black MSM increased by 48% from 2006–2009.
  • In 2009, black women accounted for 30% of the estimated new HIV infections among all blacks. Most (85%) black women with HIV acquired HIV through heterosexual sex. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for black women was more than 15 times as high as the rate for white women, and more than three times as high as that of Latina women.

HIV in Spokane County

 

Lets take a look at how disease plays out in Spokane County.  This information was obtained from Spokane Regional Health District.  There are 33 African Americans living with HIV in Spokane County.

White Non-Hispanic (NH) individuals account for 78% of newly diagnosed cases in Spokane County.  Black (NH ) account for 2% of the population in Spokane County; however, comprise 10% of new HIV cases.

The rate of new infections among Black NHs is approximately 6.0 times higher than White NHs in Spokane County and 6.4 times higher in Washington State.

Definition of HIV

AIDS is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight the organisms that cause disease.

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. It can also be spread by contact with infected blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. It can take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have AIDS.

There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications that can dramatically slow the progression of the disease. These drugs have reduced AIDS deaths in many developed nations. But HIV continues to decimate populations in Africa, Haiti and parts of Asia.

HIV Symptoms

You may be wondering what symptoms to look for with HIV and how soon symptoms may appear.

At first, some people experience no symptoms at all. Many people with HIV appear and feel healthy for several years. Even if you feel healthy, however, HIV may still be affecting your body.

For some, HIV symptoms can occur within days or weeks of initial exposure. This period is called primary or acute HIV infection. Those who contract HIV may experience flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two and symptoms may include fever, fatigue or rash.

Common symptoms may also include:

  • Headache
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes
  • Sore Throat

These symptoms do not indicate the development of AIDS. Symptoms usually disappear within days or weeks.

After the acute infection is over, many people do not experience any visible symptoms for another 8-10 years. During this time, the immune system becomes weaker and the disease progresses to AIDS. The next symptoms experienced by individuals infected with the virus are often associated with “opportunistic infections”, which may include pneumonia, tuberculosis, and toxoplasmosis.

No one should assume they have been infected with HIV because they have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms could be caused by another illness. The only way to know for sure is to be tested for HIV infection.

Testing for HIV

Testing for HIV only works after the immune system begins to fight HIV. When the body tries to fight infection, it produces antibodies — proteins used by the immune system to fight infection. When you go to take an HIV test, the test measures these antibodies in your system.

If HIV antibodies are found in the system, it is a sign that you have been infected with HIV. However, the test only works when there are enough antibodies in your system for the test to pick up. This may take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months (usually about 3 months) after you have been exposed to HIV. Until then, an HIV test may not be effective.

Prevention

The best way to prevent the spread of HIV is to practice safe sex. Consistent and correct condom use can prevent the spread of the disease. In addition, people can abstain from sex altogether.

Those who use needles for illicit drug use need to make every attempt to stop. In addition to the havoc that illicit drugs wreak on the body, sharing of dirty needles can lead to a number of life threatening infections, including HIV.

If a woman with HIV becomes pregnant, she needs to inform her obstetrician immediately. Steps can be taken to reduce the chance of spreading the disease from mother to child.

Thanks to advances in medicine, HIV is not the immediate death sentence that it once was. However, the best medicine is still to prevent the spread of the disease.

COMMUNITY RESOURCES

If you are newly diagnosed with HIV and are in need of direction or assistance there is help in the community.  There are two agencies the Spokane AIDS Network and the Spokane Regional Health District.  You can get help with insurance in order to obtain medications that are very expensive and  a referral to one of four HIV specialist in the city.  Other services that both agencies can provide are:

  • Basic needs such as food, clothing, household items
  • Referrals for emergency funds
  • Mental Health referrals
  • Substance abuse referrals
  • Housing referrals
  • Assistance with transportation
  • Assistance with legal needs such as Power of Attorney or Living Will
  • HIV education and prevention
  • Assistance with employment/income such as Back to Work, GAU, Social Security

You can reach the Spokane AIDS Network at 509-455-8993 or go to the Website www/spokaneaids.org.

The Spokane Regional Health District can be reached at 509-324-1500 or the website www/sprhd.org.

Conclusion

30 years ago HIV was considered to be a disease that was contracted by gay males.  Today African – Americans are getting the disease at an alarming rate.  My concern is that we are getting the disease at a time when funding for HIV is diminishing.  As was alluded to earlier in this article we already have a lot on our plates.  From my perspective we are going to have to take ownership of the situation and do something about it.  As parents we are going to have to provide or obtain sex education for our children.  We are going to have to advocate for abstaining from sex and or practicing safe sex.  If you are engaging in unprotected sex you should get tested.  Everyone should know their status with regards to HIV.  I hope this information is helpful.  Please if there are any questions please contact the agencies within our community.  Live well.

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