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Echoes of the country's past AIDS epidemic emerged this week in the nation's capital after a report showed nearly 3 percent of the city's residents were living with HIV, a rate reportedly higher than West Africa.
Since then, conversations about HIV testing have popped up around the country, though mostly in Washington DC, where more residents have now been inspired to get tested, the Washington Post reports.
Staff members at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in the city reportedly had their patient roster double for STD testing.
"They're frightened and want to know if these statistics apply to them," Pernell Williams, one of the workers at the clinic, told the news provider.
Other members of the staff told the Post they hoped the "hysteria in the headlines" will turn into awareness about the disease.
As a result of the report, DC council members gathered to talk about the issue and how to increase the amount of HIV testing that occurred in the city.
Council member David Catania suggested it was a life and death situation and that immediate action needed to take place, according to the article.
"Really our lives are on the line. Our stigmas are killing us," Catania told the Post. "Like cholesterol. It's one of the things a routine physical should include."
The 2008 epidemiology report by the city's HIV/AIDS office stated that approximately 15,120 of the city's residents had HIV last year. Furthermore, the report found that every mode of transmission, including men having sex with men, heterosexual sex and injected drug use, were all on the rise.
Last year, a separate report was released in the summer and stated the country had "significantly underreported the number of new HIV infections occurring nationally each year," according to the New York Times.
That study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a total of 56,300 people became infected with the virus in 2006 compared to the 40,000 figure the CDC had cited previously.
However, despite the news of the rising rate of infections, some have found hope.
Shannon Hader, director of the HIV/AIDS Administration in DC said this week the report was the beginning of a new battle to fight the disease.
"I am very hopeful, because I really believe that our citizens and our neighbors can take this information and use it to protect their lives," she said.
In other cases, old legislation has been given a new life.
The Early Treatment HIV Act is a bipartisan bill that was reintroduced into Congress this week by Representatives Eliot Engel (New York Democrat, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida Republican) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Currently, most adults with HIV are not eligible for Medicaid until they have progressed to full-blown AIDS. If passed, the legislation could reduce the death rate among this population by half over the next decade.
"Now that we have a president who is willing to sign, we urge Congress to pass this common-sense legislation that would save countless lives and taxpayer dollars," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Solmonese added that with early treatment, the quality of life will improve for HIV-positive Americans and that the number of infections will reduce.
With the advancement of various HIV treatments, more people infected with the virus are living longer lives. However to take full advantage of the treatments, one must be able to catch the infection early through lab testing.
The CDC recommends anyone who has injected drugs or shared needles, had unprotected sex or been diagnosed with other STDS such as hepatitis or syphilis get a yearly HIV test.
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