ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — World AIDS Day, a global observance to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, was observed Dec. 1.

This day was established in 1988 by the World Health Organization. It is a time to recognize those who have been affected by HIV/AIDS and to renew efforts to stop the spread of this serious disease.  The theme for this year’s observance is “Getting to Zero.” Zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero HIV/AIDS-related discrimination.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is one of the many viruses that can infect humans. There are currently 1.1 million people living in the United States who are infected with HIV or AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that one in five people infected with HIV are not aware of their condition.  Although health organizations have made many efforts to prevent the spread of HIV, there still are 50,000 new cases each year. That means a person is infected with HIV in the United States every 9.5 minutes of every day.

Unlike other viruses, HIV hijacks an individual’s immune system and then makes copies of itself. This prevents the person’s compromised immune system from successfully fighting off the HIV infection, as well as more common infections, such as the common cold. The HIV virus may eventually completely take over the immune system and the infected person will be diagnosed with AIDS.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for HIV or AIDS.

HIV is spread to others through the following four body fluids: blood, breast milk, vaginal fluids and semen. For transmission to occur, one of these body fluids must travel into another person’s body. Activities that are most likely to spread HIV include sexual contact, injection drug use, and childbirth. People who are exposed to body fluids, such as healthcare workers, also have a high risk of becoming contaminated.

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent being exposed to the HIV virus. The best way to stop the spread of HIV is by practicing abstinence, or not having sex. When having sex, one should always use a latex or polyurethane (plastic) condom. Another effective way to reduce your risk is by being monogamous, or faithful, with one person who is HIV-free.  It is also recommended that a person avoid any activities that require contact with someone else’s blood, such as sharing needles. The only way to be sure if you or your partner is infected with HIV, is to have an HIV test.

All military treatment facilities provide free HIV testing to TRICARE beneficiaries and most local healthcare providers and public health clinics offer free, or low-cost, testing as well.

To find a local HIV testing site, visit www.hivtest.cdc.gov or text your zip code to KnowIt (566948). It is important to ensure you are doing your part to get your community to zero by lowering your personal risk, getting tested and spreading the word about HIV/AIDS prevention.

Together, we can stop this disease.