By Nikki Gaskins
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — It's a scary statistic: at a rate of nearly every ten minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV.
The world will raise awareness with the annual World AIDS Day on Saturday and several Lowcountry organizations will hold events Friday, including a candlelight vigil at Marion Square in downtown Charleston.
Many people who are diagnosed with the illness, once a disease considered an automatic death sentence, go on to live normal, healthy lives.
"If this had been the 80s, I would have been long gone by now," said Andrew Petersen. "Back then you saw lots of pictures of people with sores and skinny. You don't see those issues anymore."
Five years ago, Andrew was diagnosed with HIV.
"I had gotten pneumonia. I was having a hard time breathing and I knew I had been a fool at certain times in my life and not taken the precautions that I should have taken, so I knew there was a risk factor there," he said.
He then got tested and received the news no one ever wants to hear.
"I remember driving home, and I kept thinking, 'Poor me. Oh my God. I'm going to die. How am I going to tell my family?' Then what hit me the hardest, 'What am I going to tell the people I've been with?'" Petersen said.
Dr. Michael Kilby with the Medical University of South Carolina said the disease is still very much alive and well in South Carolina.
"I think people get the wrong impression sometimes that this is an infection that doesn't have much impact in South Carolina," Kilby said. "The death rate has definitely gone down but the cases, that is how many people per year develop the disease, is pretty much unchanged from how it's always been."
Kilby said South Carolina is among the top ten states with the greatest number of reported HIV cases.
"We have 1,000 patients here in the building where I work with HIV," Kilby said.
Luckily, he said medical advancements have come a long way.
"The newest thing that made patients' lives better is the ability of drug companies to work together to put three or four medications together in one pill," he said.
Today, Petersen makes a point to urge others about getting tested for the disease since it often shows no symptoms.
"Everyone thinks they're invincible and that it's not going to happen to them," he said. "It made me realize what's important in life and not to get stressed over the small things."
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lowcountry AIDS Services will provide free HIV testing to interested individuals at Trident Tech's Palmer Campus located in downtown Charleston.
Then at 6 p.m. the organization will also hold a candlelight vigil at Marion Square. The public is encouraged to attend.
Other events include:
World AIDS Day Food Truck Rally
WHAT: Roper St. Francis Healthcare will recognize World AIDS Day with a special event featuring local musicians, singers, fundraising items and on-site food trucks.
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 30
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Food trucks will be serving from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
WHERE: Roper Hospital, 316 Calhoun Street, Charleston
St. Francis Hospital, 2095 Henry Tecklenburg Drive
Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital, 3500 Hwy 17 North, Mount Pleasant
BACKGROUND: The theme for World AIDS Day 2012 is "break the silence, end the stigma." To care for an individual with HIV/AIDS in an outpatient setting costs$28,000 annually in SC. If a patient is hospitalized, that cost triples. The Ryan White Program at Roper St. Francis provides intensive medical case management to individuals enrolled in the program, including over 250 seniors who live in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.