Vic Riato has worked at the Will County Health Department since 1981. He remembers when the AIDS epidemic exploded in the mid-'80s.
"I can recall during that timeframe, if you were diagnosed with AIDS, you were dead; that was a death sentence," he said.
The statistics for today show that is no longer the case. As of June 30, 2012, there are 309 Will County residents living with HIV.
"These are people who have been diagnosed with HIV and they are living with HIV," said Riato, health department media services manager.
And they are living with AIDs, too -- 352 in Will County -- thanks to treatments for both the early and more advanced version of the disease.
"I think it illustrates how far we have come that you have that many people living with AIDS," he said.
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, damages your immune system and compromises your body's ability to fight organisms that cause disease, the health department said. AIDS is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. The Will County Health Department wants to encourage sexually active individuals to get tested, even if they do not get tested in Will County.
"The real emphasis needs to be really young people, ages 15 to 24," Riato said.
"When you’re that age, (you think) you’re indestructible. ... That’s what World AIDS Day is all about."
Riato said the people in that age group don't know about the number of people who died from AIDS in the 1980s.
"To them, I don’t think what went on in the '80s has a lot of relevance," Riato said.
World AIDS Day is dedicated to raising awareness of the epidemic of diseases caused by the spread of HIV infection. AIDS has killed millions of people worldwide, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.
A key component of getting people into treatment is early and accurate HIV testing and diagnosis. Testing is the only way to identify the more than 210,000 Americans currently living with HIV who do not know they are infected. Nationally, more than a million Americans are currently living with HIV.
Locally, between 2005 and June 30 of this year, 285 Will County residents were diagnosed with HIV. During the same period, 171 people were diagnosed with AIDS.
Knowing your HIV status also contributes to healthy decision making and limits the spread of a dangerous viral infection. For more information about HIV/AIDS, go to www.cdc.gov/hiv, or call 815-727-8830.