GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - According to the state department of health, 33 people were diagnosed with HIV in July. In the first 7 months of 2016, 255 people tested positive.
With Mississippi ranking number nine in the nation for reported HIV cases, awareness is at an all-time high. On Saturday, the Red Pump Project stopped in Gulfport educate residents about the impact of HIV.
More than 90 women & girls gathered at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for 'Cupcakes and Condoms'. The 10-city tour not only dispelled myths about how the disease is spread, but also stressed the fact that while HIV is preventable, living with the disease is manageable.
A 52-year-old panelist, who did not want to be named, shared her story of living with HIV for 10 years.
"I'm HIV positive. I'm not proud, but I'm not discouraged," she told the largest Cupcakes and Condoms crowd to date.
Of all the areas in Mississippi, the highest percentage of cases are on the Coast. That reason, according to experts, is likely attributed to the transient nature of the area.
Because HIV cannot be detected simply by looking at someone, experts encourage everyone to get tested. Although some people avoid knowing their status out of fear, it's a choice that can have dire consequences.
"Don't not get tested because you want to take it [your status] to the grave, because you just might dig yourself an early grave," said a health official.
In addition to educating adults, the event also encouraged parents to talk to their kids about sex. When asked by an attendee what age is appropriate, panelists all agreed that the sooner, the better.
Those engaged in unprotected sex should wait at least three weeks before getting tested. To find an HIV testing center, visit http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/.