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HIV/AIDS treatments improve as diagnosis rates soar

SAN ANTONIO – World AIDS Day was first commemorated in 1988, at a time when some considered the virus as the new plague.

There have been recent breakthroughs in treatment, although the spread of the disease continues to be a problem in Bexar County.

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1995, Derrell Taylor was admitted to the San Antonio Aids Foundation Care Facility in April for treatment of pneumonia.

"I weighed 80 pounds, couldn't walk, was in a wheelchair and (could) barely talk and SAAF has nursed me back to health in a big way," he said.

Not long ago, patients like Taylor wouldn't have had a chance.

"When I started here in 1991, we were known as the 'death house' here at the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. Anyone that got admitted here did die," said SAAF Executive Director David Ewell.

No longer a death sentence, HIV/AIDS patients can live for decades with proper treatment.

New medications can consist of a single pill a day.

"Back in the '80s and '90s, I had people taking up to 40 pills (per day), at least, which was just unbelievable. It was so many pills," said Ewell. "I don't know how they could stand it. It would make them very sick and nauseous."

While treatments have gotten better, the disease continues to spread. The number of people diagnosed with HIV in Bexar County jumped 62 percent between 2006 and 2013.

"There's not enough communication, still, that people do die catching HIV and AIDS if they do not get into medical care and I stress, anyone that has had risky behavior in their life (needs) to get tested," said Ewell.

Current blood tests are done by pricking the tip of a finger, with results available in 60 seconds. While early diagnosis increases chances of survival, experts stress that prevention is the best route.

"You do not want this disease at all. Please, take precautions," said Taylor

The San Antonio Aids Foundation offers free HIV testing Monday through Saturday.

For more information on the San Antonio Aids Foundation, click here.

World AIDS Day marks the kickoff for Aids Prevention Week. More information about events is available here.