DETROIT (WXYZ) — National HIV Testing Day is on June 27, a time to make sure you know your status and to promote awareness around HIV and AIDS.
42 percent of all new HIV infections, the virus that causes AIDS, are in people under 25 years old. Here in Michigan, that's upwards of 380 new HIV cases each year in youth alone; and a lot of them are still coming from the City of Detroit.
“53 percent of all of the people across Michigan that are diagnosed with HIV reside right here in Detroit," said Keshaun Houston. She's a clinic social worker and a research assistant at Wayne State.
“When you see that entire map of Michigan that’s color-coded, that little dot is bright glaring red," she said, speaking of Detroit's high concentration of HIV positive cases.
Houston isn't just a social worker, she's also someone who understands the loss HIV and AIDS can bring with it. Her older brother Jerral Scott passed away at age 25 from AIDS in 1993. During that time, stigma surrounding the disease stopped many families and loved ones from getting a chance to say goodbye.
Houston still remembers not being allowed into the room to hold her brother's hand.
"I have made my life's mission to not let that happen to another person," she said.
We asked Houston why, Detroit sees so many more HIV positive cases than other parts of the state, even areas with large populations.
"It has a very high rate of the minority groups that are impacted by HIV," she said. That includes people of color, gay men, and people who are transgender.
And now Houston, who works at an adolescent public health clinic, is seeing an alarming trend.
“I’m seeing younger and younger individuals being tested positive with HIV. 3 or 4 a week, still in high school," she said.
Online dating apps haven't helped, Houston told Action News. Some young people she said, come in not even knowing how or who they contracted HIV from.
“I was a young person, before the age of 20. I was dating someone I knew was living with HIV," Ari Hampton said. He's living with HIV now in his early 30s.
Top Five Common Myths About HIV
- If I have HIV/Aids, I can’t have children because my child will have the disease.
- Although my virus load is undetectable, I can still transmit HIV to my partner.
- Only gay men and IV drug users get HIV.
- HIV shortens your lifespan considerably.
- If you have HIV, you take a “cocktail” of drugs with ample side effects.
Unlike some of the cases Houston sees, Hampton was very careful in his youth. He wore condoms and even went to his partner's doctor's appointments. Ultimately, he contracted HIV in 2009 during a domestic violence incident through wound-to-wound transmission.
“I just remember in that moment feeling as a young person that my life was over.”
11 years later, Hampton no works to promote awareness around HIV. Most importantly, getting tested.
“As soon as you find your you’re HIV positive getting on meds as soon as possible prolongs the lifespan of someone living with HIV," he said.
And these days, day-to-day life with HIV isn't all that different.
“I take one pill a day, which keeps my viral load very low," he said.
Similar to COVID, the AIDS crisis made clear major disparities in the healthcare system. And during the pandemic, Houston said fewer people were coming in to get tested for HIV.
Something she hopes starts to change as COVID numbers fall and Michigan continues to re-open.
“It’s something we need to address in terms of research and trying to understand why these things exist, but we’ve made great strides," she said.
You can find a free HIV testing site in your zip code by searching on the state's website.
You can also get an HIV test on June 19 at Detroit Public Health STD Clinic at 50 E Canfield Street from 10 until 12 p.m.
Click here for City of Detroit HIV resources