Thousands living with HIV in SE Wisconsin

Thousands of people are living with HIV in the Milwaukee area.

TODAY’S TMJ4 talked with a doctor about advances in treatment and how to prevent the infection.

People living with HIV still face a stigma. The president of the AIDS Resource Center says things haven't really gotten better for them. But Charlie Sheen's story opens a new dialogue on what living with HIV really means.

For decades, people living with HIV and AIDS lived in the shadows, fearful of backlash.

"We recently had a case where a homeless person went to a shelter in northwest Wisconsin on a cold winter's night,” explains Mike Gifford, President and CEO of the ARCW. “They weren't allowed access to the shelter because of their HIV status."

Actor Charlie Sheen's admission sheds new light on the struggles these people face.

"Charlie talked a lot about despair and depression. And thankfully he was able to turn those mental health challenges into courage as he announced his HIV status to the world," says Gifford.

The ARCW says there are around 8,000 people in Wisconsin living with HIV or AIDS. Milwaukee County is the epicenter where around 4,800 people have the infection.

40% of patients the ARCW serves are Caucasian. 50% African-American, 8% are Hispanic.

Doctor John Fangman says everyone should be tested. The fighting chance to win is greater if the infection is found early.

"The key is in getting diagnosed early before you develop symptomatic or HIV or clinical AIDS," says Dr. Fangman, Medical Director of the ARCW Medical Clinic.

Newly diagnosed people can get by with one pill once a day.

"For people that are exceptionally high risk for getting HIV who are HIV negative, there's also a prevention through medication, called pre-exposure prophylaxis," says Dr. Fangman.

The ARCW helps those living with the infection get medical care and mental help therapy. You can learn more here.

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