ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — It's not something people like to talk about, but Louisiana has one of the highest HIV-AIDS rates in the country, and the problem particularly plagues the black community.
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"This is something that needs to be discussed at every dinner table, every school, every church," Dr. David Holcombe said last week as the Test 1 Million Louisiana Celebrity Tour stopped in Alexandria to provide entertainment and information about the importance of HIV testing.
Some of the celebrities who had been scheduled to appear were not present for the Alexandria stop.
Holcombe, regional administrator and medical director of the Office of Public Health's Region VI, was among those at the event emphasizing the importance of getting tested for HIV.
The tour stop on Monday was part of the combined efforts of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals' Office of Public Health and the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. They are sponsoring a series of events in Louisiana to encourage more people to get tested for HIV.
Louisiana ranked fifth-highest in AIDS cases per capita in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control information from 2007. Louisiana reported 20.5 AIDS cases per 100,000 population in 2007. That put it fifth behind Washington, D.C., 148.1 cases per 100,000; New York, 24.9 cases; Maryland, 24.8 cases; and Florida, 21.7 cases.
New Orleans ranked second and Baton Rouge third for highest rates of AIDS diagnoses among metropolitan areas in 2007. Miami ranked first.
One of the focuses of the tour is to increase awareness and encourage more testing among the black community in Louisiana, Holcombe said.
African-Americans make up about 32 percent of the state's population, but they made up 72 percent of new HIV cases and 70 percent of new AIDS diagnoses in 2008, according to the latest information provided by the Office of Public Health's HIV-AIDS program.
"This is a big problem, and unfortunately especially among minorities," Holcombe said.
Another problem state health administrators are concerned about is the prevalence of simultaneous HIV and AIDS diagnoses, said Jack Carrel, prevention program manager with the Office of Public Health HIV/AIDS Program.
About 50 percent of people diagnosed with HIV in the past few years contracted it about 10 years prior, and the virus had already developed into AIDS.
Organizations like the Office of Public Health and the Black AIDS Institute point to HIV testing as the first step toward treatment, officials at Monday's event said. To demonstrate the efficiency of today's tests, Carrel underwent an oral and blood rapid test, which provide results in 20 and 10 minutes, respectively, rather than weeks of waiting that accompanied older testing methods.
"People need to know their status," Carrel said. "We want HIV testing to be part of your regular health care."
Treatments also have progressed in the last decade, including more than 30 drug regimens that can help suppress the virus or boost the immune system of a patient, said Charlie Baran, director of programs for the Black AIDS Institute.
"Most people think an HIV diagnosis is a death sentence," said Sandra Bright with Huey P. Long Medical Center's CD4 Clinic. "Our focus is on the living."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press
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