Common sense can save lives

As Florida A&M University’s more than 12,000 students complete their final exams and fine-tune their plans for the summer, the rapid spread of AIDS and HIV continues to devastate blacks, especially college age students.

According to national health officials, although blacks comprise about 12 percent of the total United States population, they make up nearly half of all new AIDS cases reported in America.

Health data from “The Body: An AIDS and HIV Information Resource” reports that about 25 percent of all people living with HIV became infected when they were teenagers, and that half of all new HIV infections occur among teenagers and young adults age 25 years and younger.

Many contracted the disease because they indulged in unsafe sex, or otherwise failed to educate themselves about the risky behaviors associated with contracting the disease.

Blacks and Hispanics are the fastest growing groups infested with the disease.

Although there are numerous sources that offer information about HIV/AIDS and its impact on the black population, black teenagers need to be more informed and constantly reminded about the health risks and dangers of this deadly virus.

HIV is a virus that attacks a person’s immune system and hinders the body’s ability to fight infection, which can lead to other illnesses.

One way the disease is passed from one person to another is by having unprotected sex with a person who has the HIV virus.

Sexual transmission of the disease occurs through vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Transmission can also occur by sharing a needle or a syringe with a person who has HIV, or through contaminated blood given to a person during blood transfusions.

Despite advances in HIV treatment, the virus continues to increase among young people of color. One in every four new AIDS case is a black American under the age of 22.

Black males between the ages of 20-24 make up 35 percent of all new AIDS cases. Black females in the same age group make up 55 percent of new cases.

According to health officials, this is because these young people engage in risky sexual and drug use behavior.

Most black women in this age group are infected with AIDS through heterosexual contact, and are at greater risk for contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases than older women.

Health officials report this is likely because younger women may have multiple sex partners, engage in risky behaviors, or unable to negotiate safer sexual practices with their partners.

Another staggering fact is that AIDS is the number one killer of black men in America between the ages of 18 to 44.

Health experts from the Office of Minority Health Resource Center reported that the majority of black men released from prison are either HIV positive or were infected by the virus. These circumstances help increase the number of infected black males in this age group.

When HIV symptoms appear they vary from person to person. Some people get fevers or diarrhea. Many people get swollen glands that won’t clear up. Others lose weight for no apparent reason, or have prolonged illnesses that healthy people would usually resist.

Many people experience headaches, diarrhea, rashes, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, fevers, and other flu-like symptoms.

These symptoms may disappear for a while. For years, those infected with HIV may look and feel healthy, as the virus can lie dormant for up to six months.

Blood and saliva tests, best administered by a professional, can determine if someone is infected with the disease. Individuals are encouraged to see a doctor on a regular basis, and to take an HIV test even if they do not think they are at risk.

Those who are sexually active or practice other high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use and needle sharing are encouraged to have an HIV test every six months.

Over the years, medical researchers have developed antiviral medication to help fight the disease.

One successful drug regimen in fighting the disease is Retrovir Zidovudine, or Azidothymidine, commonly called AZT. The medication can helped some people with AIDS, by delay its progression. Researchers are currently working diligently to discover other medicines that might help fight or eliminate the virus.

As we move into the summer and four months of relaxation, be mindful of this advice: Knowledge and common sense can help you protect yourself and those you love from HIV.

It’s important to know how the virus spreads, how it affects the body and how early treatment can help people live longer. See a doctor and take a HIV test immediately if you have any reason to think you’ve been exposed to the virus.

Remember, HIV infection is clearly linked to lifestyle choices, and anyone can get the virus. It doesn’t matter if you are young, old, male, female, gay, straight, black or white.

Learn to and commit to protecting yourself and others from this deadly disease.

Jamal R. Engram is a freshman business administration student from Miami.Contact him at