Blacks represent 68% of HIV/AIDS cases in Mississippi
In 1981, the first cases of AIDS in this country were medically typed and stereotyped - it was a gay white man's disease.
Now, 25 years later, among Mississippi's children in particular, it is an African-American disease.
African Americans of all ages represent 68 percent of AIDS cases in Mississippi, compared with 40 percent nationwide, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Mississippi, 58 children are known to be living with AIDS; all but six are African American, says Dr. Hannah Gay, head of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
When children are born with AIDS, it's because the disease was passed on to them by their mothers at birth. In practically all cases, this doesn't have to be so, not if the mother is treated for her disease around the time the child is born.
"In Mississippi, no woman who's HIV-infected has given birth to an HIV-infected baby if she has participated in perinatal therapy," says Craig Thompson, director of the state Department of Health's STD/HIV bureau.
If an HIV mother gives birth without intervention, the baby will be infected about 30 percent of the time.
"An estimated 70 to 90 percent of the infections transmitted are done so by people who don't know they are infected," Thompson says.
They may not know because it could take "eight to 10 years before symptoms show up in adults after they're infected," Gay says.
More and more, those who are getting infected are African-American women, says James DeDeaux, executive director of South Mississippi AIDS Task Force in Biloxi. "Unprotected sex accounts for close to 90 percent of Mississippi's HIV disease," Thompson says.
Ignorance is NOT Bliss