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AIDS: What you need to know

Corie Russell is a Midwest-born writer living in New York City. After dabbling in the office life as an editor, she joined the ranks of full-time freelancers and writes about everything from home decor to the recession.

Searching for a cure

Even if you think you know everything about HIV and AIDS, take some time to brush up on the facts. Did you know, for instance, that Washington DC is a hot spot for HIV transmission, or that females are more easily infected?

Aids ribbon

With about 33 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, according to 2007 Global Health Reporting statistics, the best way to protect yourself and to help others is to do your research, get tested, and open the channels for discussion.

"There are many today who believe the problem is going away, especially in North America," says Cathy Krieger, CEO of Children's Place Association, a residential facility dedicated to the care of HIV/AIDS-affected children. "We all need to come together and spread the word. The HIV crisis is a global one, and only together can we help eradicate the disease."

What is the cause?

HIV was first identified in the U.S. in 1981 after a number of people became sick with a rare type of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After several years, scientists developed a test to determine it was actually HIV. Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in West Africa as the source, which most likely transferred to humans when they hunted primates and made contact with their infected blood, the CDC says. HIV is commonly transmitted by having sexual intercourse with an infected person, sharing needles and syringes, and being exposed to HIV before or during birth or through breast feeding.

Who is most affected?

HIV infections in the U.S. are growing rapidly in female minority populations such as African-Americans and Hispanics, says Dr Stephen Smith, a physician-scientist who serves as the medical director of Saint Michael's Medical Center, New Jersey's oldest and largest clinic for the treatment of HIV and AIDS.

The most common infection age is 25 to 40, and the largest infected group is still homosexual men, Smith says. However, women have an increased vulnerability to infection due to biological, social, cultural and economic factors, according to Global Health Reporting. Gender inequalities often prevent women from asserting power over their lives and controlling circumstances.

Worldwide, South Africa has the highest numbers, and infection rates are also on the rise in India and China because of the large populations, Smith says.

New testing methods

Getting tested regularly is a great way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The good news is, the test doesn't have to be the same scary, blood-drawing process it used to be. And the results are nearly instantaneous.

One dentist in New York City has even begun a rapid oral test at her office. "Overall, the response seems to be great, particularly just the convenience," says Catrise Austin of VIP Smiles. "If I'm in their mouth checking for cavities and gum disease, why not take the extra step?" She officially began the testing in August and says it was a long but worthwhile process to get licensed.

Austin says she's the first dentist in New York City to perform the tests, which cost $20 and offer results in 20 minutes.

"I hope that it becomes the standard of care," she says.

Next: How to help

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