HIV Program Manager Brandon Dykes said people who are older tend to engage in more sex without protection and they are less likely to get tested.
“They’re not the fastest growing rate, but there has been a rising rate in older individuals,” he said.
The numbers for another group in our region continue to climb.
Dykes said, “The numbers still are the highest with the black gay males, or men having sex with men, the numbers are still the highest in that demographic.
The Richmond County Health Department hosted a panel discussion to help close the gap. Educators say it all starts with getting patients to talk about the disease. That can now happen through providing support groups via teleconferences.
Augusta University Patient Educator Carolyn Yancey told us she has seen people avoid support groups due to stigma and fear.
“So many clients are afraid. I’ve had support groups before and women have walked in before and saw each other and it was like if they could have just disappeared,” she said.
Yancey added it’s key to let people know that HIV and AIDS is not a death sentence. That’s something Dykes said he’s letting people know about as well, but ending the stigma must happen first.
“They feel like if I eat after you then I’m going to get HIV. If I drink after you I will get HIV. If I touch you, I’ll get HIV and that’s not true,” he said. “You literally need to get it through vaginal secretions, breast milk, blood. You can get it through IV drug use. You can’t get it through touching someone.”
Dykes said those with HIV only really need to share the news with people they are having sex with. He said that could help the patient with being more socially accepted among family and friends, dispelling the myths.
“With all the new advances in medicine, if you take your medicine every day, there is a slim chance that you will give the HIV virus to someone else,” Dykes explained adding that taking medicine at the same time each day could lead to a patient becoming undetectable. That is not a cure, but it does decrease the chances of passing along the virus to someone else because it will be contained inside your body.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps