sioxu falls, sd
World AIDS Day is this week. While you may not hear about the disease often, hundreds of people in South Dakota are living with it. But the perception of HIV and AIDS has also changed over the past few decades.
Pat Moe counts her blessings not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year. She says that's just one thing her younger brother taught her.
"Losing fear of dying, being strong enough to go over the stigma and say, 'This is my brother. He had AIDS,'" Moe said.
Moe's brother, Andy Dodge, told her he had AIDS in January of 1994.
"After I was done talking with him, I got physically sick because you knew what it meant. Back in that time it was not a good thing; he died four months later," Moe said.
Since Moe lost her brother to the disease, there has been a lot of progress in learning how to treat HIV and AIDS.
"It's really, essentially, a chronic illness like diabetes or emphysema. It's treatable. It does have health consequences, but it's very treatable," Falls Community Health Medical Director Charlie Shafer said.
Shafer is one of only a few HIV specialists in the state. He says even though HIV is much more survivable than in the past, it's still important to get tested.
"One of the reasons for that is that about 18 percent of the people in the country with HIV don't realize they're infected," Shafer said.
That's because if you know you have HIV, you can take steps to make sure you don't spread the disease. You can also start taking medication, which Moe wishes had been available for her brother.
"He was a great uncle to them. He was the fun, 'Let's go here, I'll buy you presents' uncle. Every kid loves that," Moe said.
He was a loving man who taught Moe some life lessons.
"It isn't about being gay or a drug user. This is your son, daughter, grandchild, whoever. It's about love and this is the major thing he taught us, to love unconditionally," Moe said.
Statewide, there are around 400 people are living with HIV. Seventy-five percent of South Dakota counties also have at least one person with the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone ages 13 to 64 be tested for HIV at least once. You can get tested for free at Falls Community Health Monday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.