The scourge of HIV/AIDS is 100 percent preventable by keeping in mind some simple words of wisdom from local infectious disease specialist Bobbi Delon.
"If it's wet and it's not yours, don't touch it without protection," she advised a packed ballroom at the Hilton Hotel Thursday evening. "Not just the sexy parts — needles, diarrhea ... Let's get more people in the know so we can stomp this disease."
The Dec. 1 gathering, hosted by the Indiana Minority AIDS Coalition, honored World AIDS Day and celebrated strides made locally against a disease that continues to plague communities — including this one — worldwide.
As of June 30, Indiana had 4,528 people living with HIV and without an AIDS diagnosis; 5,486 people in the state are living with AIDS, according to the most recent data available from the Indiana State Department of Health.Of these people, 4,142 were living in Marion County — 3,356 men and 786 women.
HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which the point of infection in which the immune system experiences severe damage. With appropriate medication, people
"Within a few weeks of being infected with HIV, some people develop flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two, but others have no symptoms at all," according to the Centers for Disease Control.
And thus the virus continues to spread as people living with HIV, who may appear and feel healthy for several years unaware of their infection, continue to spread it.
Since 1981, the state has recorded the deaths of 5,742 people with HIV.
HIV/AIDS is an "equal-opportunity" killer, Delon said, noting it strikes "moms, dads, children, old people, young people, neighbors, strangers, straight people, gay people and people somewhere in between.
"To underplay this killer is inconceivable."
But, even as society struggles with a growing infection rate, several speakers noted the tremendous progress in the way it approaches treatment and eradication efforts.
Targeted testing efforts, for example, enable infected people to take the steps necessary to prevent further transmission and to embrace a quality of life years ahead of the people who struggled with the disease in the '80s.
This was the case for the IMAC's 2011 Courage to Live award winner Dipuo Gloria Manamela.
In a routine series of tests administered upon her first prenatal exam, doctors at the Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center discovered Manamela's HIV infection.
Nearly 20 years later, Manamela works in Merrillville, Ind., as an HIV services counselor for Brothers United. At the IMAC event she sat radiant with pride next to her 16-year-old son John Paul, who will graduate in two weeks and head on to Ivy Tech.
Because she gained awareness of the disease through her test, Manamela was able to take medicine to control the virus, preserve a high quality of life for herself and prevent transmission to her child.
"I'm honored for him to be my date tonight," she said.
Underscoring the importance of ongoing testing efforts, IMAC brochures emphasized a Centers of Disease Control statistic that one in five people living with HIV do not know they are infected — an estimated 250,000 across the country.
Marion County recorded 192 new diagnoses of HIV without AIDS from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2011, according to the most recent data available from the Indiana State Department of Health. In addition, 64 patients tested positive of AIDS upon their first diagnosis.
A number of local options are available for free HIV tests.
"Once gay men and drug users were the populations most infected with the disease," Delon said. "Now it's youth in their late teens and twenties and the elderly."
Indiana residents aged 13 to 29 years comprise about 45 percent of the state's estimated HIV cases, according to the state health department. The HIV infection rate among youth is nearly twice that of those aged 30 and older.
Throughout the evening's awards ceremony, speakers emphasized that because HIV is a disease that strikes indiscriminately throughout the community, it will take cohesive community-wide response to achieve the "getting to zero" goal of a day where zero births and zero deaths are marked by the specter of HIV/AIDS.
The sixth annual event, which organizers said had its highest attendance ever, recognized the work of nonprofit service organizations, government workers at the state and county health departments, houses of worship, medical caregivers, researchers, educators and media.
Nationwide, about 1.2 million people are infected with HIV. About 50,000 new infections are anticipated in the U.S. this year, according to the CDC. Worldwide, an estimated 34 million people live with HIV/AIDS.