Although some communities feel larger effects of HIV/AIDS, anyone can get the disease. If you are unsure of your risk for the disease, contact a local healthcare provider to get tested.

Members of the Ascension Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority raised awareness about HIV/AIDS at an event in Veterans Memorial Park over the weekend. The women came dressed in the sorority colors of black and red to bring awareness to the disease following World AIDS Day on December 1.

The purpose of the event was to bring awareness to the effects of the disease and encourage preventative methods and testing. The group wants people to be informed of the signs and symptoms, as many people who contract the disease don't know they have it.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the immune system. AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is the last stage of the HIV infection. In all stages, the disease weakens the immune system, making it difficult for the body to protect itself against illness.

Saturday morning's event began with the women singing a verse from the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing." The women then offered statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the disease, saying in 2016 more than 36 million people worldwide have AIDS. They noted that HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects the African American community.

The disease can be spread in a variety of ways from sexual intercourse to sharing needles. It can also be passed from a mother to her child during childbirth or while breastfeeding. Prior to the 1980s when HIV testing began, the disease could also be spread through blood transfusions.

When HIV invades the body, people can have flu-like symptoms within weeks of being infected. Some people may not show symptoms for years, meaning they are living with the disease and potentially spreading it to other people without even knowing. As the infection progresses, other symptoms may become apparent. Those signs can include swollen lymph glands, recurrent fever and night sweats, rapid weight loss, tiredness, rashes, and other symptoms.

Treatment can help people with HIV stay healthier, but there is currently no cure for the infection and no vaccine to prevent it. Surgery, drugs and radiation can help fight infections, cancers and other illnesses people with AIDS often get. New treatments are being developed that will hopefully help fight against the disease in the future.

Although some communities feel larger effects of HIV/AIDS, anyone can get the disease. If you are unsure of your risk for the disease, contact a local healthcare provider to get tested. If you are engaging in risky behavior, like unprotected sex or needle sharing, keep in mind that it make take the body three months or more to make enough HIV antibodies for the test to detect.

The Delta Sigma Theta alumnae wrapped up their awareness celebration by releasing memorial balloons in honor of those who lost the fight against HIV/AIDS.

For more information about HIV/AIDS or to find out where to get tested, visit cdc.gov/hiv.

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