Newswise — They don't discriminate. They can affect the young, older adults and pregnant women. They also strike rich and poor, male and female. People from all walks of life can become infected with HIV and AIDS. Knowing how to prevent them, how to live with them, and the strides made over the years to fight them are essential. This knowledge is one of the main goals of World AIDS Day, which is observed on December 1 each year. The Infectious Disease Ambulatory Center (IDAC) at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore is a ray of hope for those who need information so they don’t contract the virus or the disease and for those who need to mange their conditions, if they are already infected. “I’ve been treating patients for 20 years, and I’m here to tell you that everyone is at risk,” says Joanne Hayes, the coordinator at Sinai’s IDAC, which sees about 350 people every year from Baltimore City and surrounding Maryland counties. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2009, 33 million people around the world were living with HIV or AIDS. HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that can become acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS. “Thanks to research done since 1981, the virus can often be managed with medication, but it can still be deadly, so the best thing everyone can do is take precautions to avoid getting HIV in the first place,” says Hayes. “Always using condoms and not sharing any paraphernalia involving injected drugs are key.
Most often, AIDS and HIV are transmitted by bodily fluids during sex and by contact with infected blood. However, a pregnant mother who has AIDS can also pass it onto her unborn child. Although there is still a long way to go in this fight, there is good news involving the tiniest potential victims. “During the past 10 years, no pregnant woman treated at the IDAC at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore has given birth to an HIV-positive baby. That's because seeing a doctor and starting treatment immediately can give a newborn the edge it needs to be born healthy,” adds Hayes. Around the United States, the news is also good. Twenty-five percent of newborns used to be infected with the virus, now only 2% are positive, although even that is too many. “My best advice is for everyone to get tested. If a test comes back positive, see a medical professional right away,” recommends Hayes. “If a test comes back negative, continue getting tested three or four times a year.” Thanks to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Ryan White Part A grant, administered by the Baltimore City Health Department, Sinai recently received funding to treat uninsured and underinsured patients who are HIV-positive. In this time of economic challenges, this is especially important because people who have lost their jobs and are between insurance don’t have to delay getting the medical help they need.