The number of American adults tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, reached a record high in 2009. In that same year, hundreds if not thousands of Brazos Valley residents were tested. In Brazos County alone more than 250 people tested positive for HIV or AIDS But across the region that number jumped to more than 360 people--and that's only of the people who were tested.
"If you don't have knowledge of thing's that's happening with you then you perish you may die because it is a deadly disease," says Bryan resident, Ray Robinson.
Robinson is talking about AIDS. Every nine-and-a-half-minutes, someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV. By some estimates, some 20-percent of the population is infected with the the deadly virus and they don't even have a clue.
"If you are sexually active you are at risk for getting HIV."
Dispelling the mind set that AIDS only affects a certain group of people is something Julie Ribardo is trying to do.
"HIV affects everybody, I don't care what your age is, your ethnicity, what your race is, what your socio-economic status is, rich, poor it crosses all boundaries," says Ribardo.
And so are Margaret Samarrippas and Ella McGruder.
"Hi there, how are you? Here you go, here is a packet with information on HIV/AIDS and do you need condoms?" asks Samarrippas as she and McGruder walk down Martin Luther King Blvd.
Both work for Project Unity, a non-profit organization in Bryan that helps those infected with HIV transition into a more sustainable life.
"We have a variety of programs that can help someone who is HIV positive, whether it be housing, helping with medications," says Samarrippas. "Medications are extremely expensive."
Once infected with HIV, people typically have five-to-ten years without symptoms before they progress to AIDS.
"If you are infected, this is something you cannot change," says Ribardo. "It is not curable."
Which is why Ribardo says getting tested is the first line of defense.
"It's a matter of walking into our facility, letting our staff members know you would like an HIV test. It is absolutely and completely confidential."
Nicole Morten: "Getting tested is so easy, painless and quick I wanted to put Derek to the test. See it's that easy! And in 10-12 minutes I'll have the results."
Derek Gentry is a risk reduction specialist at the Bryan-College Station Community Health Clinic. For over 11 years, Gentry has provided comfort and relief to those seeking treatment.
"Nicole are you ready for your results?" asks Derek Gentry.
Nicole: "Yes I am."
Gentry: "Your results came back negative.You tested negative for HIV. Now how does that feel?"
Nicole: "Absolutely wonderful!"
"If an individual is diagnosed with HIV we want to get them into treatment as soon as possible," says Ribardo.
For those who do test positive for HIV...
"We refer them to Special Health Services where they have case workers who go through a process with them," explains Gentry. "They meet with them on a routine basis, getting them with the proper resources, equipment and care that they will need."
"It's not a death sentence, it's not the end of the world," explains Ribardo.
Being proactive and getting proper treatment Ribardo says, provides hope for a more viable future.
Getting tested for HIV is FREE at the Bryan-College Station Community Health Center. You can also get tested at the Brazos County Health Department.
Click on the links below the story for more information on resources in the Brazos Valley.
Project Unity Special Health Services
4001 East 29th Street
Bryan/College Station Community Health Center
3370 South Texas Avenue, Suite B
Bryan, Texas 77802
Tel: (979) 595-1726
Fax: (979) 595-1740