‘We have to stay vigilant,’ advocate says of World AIDS Day

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — AIDS is still with us.

Chip Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, said that is what people needed to keep in mind on Sunday’s World AIDS Day and all year.

“We just find, not only in the United States but in other places in the world, there’s a sense that somehow, maybe, we’re in the final act of HIV and AIDS, but that is not the whole story,” Lyons told MetroNews.

“There’s an enormous amount of work to do to control the epidemic and to drive down new infections.”

Since early 2018, at least 80 cases of HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS, have been diagnosed in Cabell County.

West Virginia usually has a low annual rate of HIV diagnoses. In 2017, the rate was 4.3 per 100,000 residents.

The Bureau for Public Health in the state Department of Health and Human Resources has labeled the cases in Cabell County an “HIV cluster.”

Thus far, those cases have been linked to intravenous drug use.

Lyons, though, cautioned HIV was capable of “jumping” populations without proper preventative steps.

“We can control this epidemic worldwide in almost any setting. We have better medicines, better diagnostic tools, better counseling than we’ve ever had in the 30-plus years of fighting HIV and AIDS,” he said.

“But 30 years is a long fight and so people get tired or they get complacent or, if it’s not in their immediate lives, they think maybe it’s gone away. We have to stay vigilant.”

Testing was key in his view.

“In the meantime, until that glorious day where there is a cure, we have to battle this disease and you do that by preventing it in the first instance, but also then making sure that people who do have the virus are on treatment,” Lyons said.

“We just have to rededicate ourselves to the fight.”

World AIDS Day was founded in 1988.

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