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Vermont marks World AIDS Day - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont marks World AIDS Day

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

There have been events taking place worldwide to mark World AIDS Day which is Saturday. Friday in Burlington, people gathered on the Church Street Marketplace for a candlelight march and rally. The march and rally was hosted by Vermont CARES-- that is the Committee for AIDS Resources, Education and Services. About two dozen people walked the length of Church Street with candles to remember those who have passed, and to speak about the future of HIV care and prevention.

Earlier in the day, WCAX News talked to organizers and state health officials about HIV in Vermont.

"For Vermont it's a great chance to talk about HIV and AIDS and get people thinking about the virus, which is still impacting every corner of our state. It's an excellent opportunity to share information about free HIV testing, which is available in every community," said Peter Jacobsen, the executive director of Vermont CARES.

HIV and AIDS were in the headlines in the 1980s. Dr Christopher Grace of Fletcher Allen Health Care remembers the early years of AIDS in Vermont.

"There have been huge changes, Earth-shaking changes. So, back in the early days before 1996, basically everybody who got this illness, or almost everybody, died. So, our major work was trying to diagnose people with these illnesses trying to manage them. We did a huge amount of hospice care," Grace said.

Today, HIV is no longer a death sentence, thanks to medicines and education. And the number of those being infected with HIV has dropped significantly.

"Yeah, that's a good thing. We have had pretty steady numbers and they have been consistently low, which is good. We only have a handful, usually fewer than 10, newly identified HIV and AIDs cases in Vermont residents each year," Vt. Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said. "But still that is too many."

Now, the concern is for people who may be infected with HIV, but have not been tested yet. Kelso says people can be infected for 10 years or more before they have any sign or symptom of HIV.

"There are an estimated 100 Vermonters who are infected with HIV and don't know it, and that's what we are really trying to accomplish with World AIDS Day and other activities, to get those people in for testing so they can find out their status," Kelso said.

In the meantime, World AIDS Day events go on.

"It's a somber and reflective moment to think about the impact HIV has had on all our lives," Jacobsen said.

Grace says the Centers for Disease Control is calling for everybody to be tested for HIV. Not only does that help take away the stigma of being tested, but it also ensures those who have HIV will know it and be able to get treatment.

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