MADISON, Wis. - Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day each year. The goal of the global day is to raise awareness of the need for regular HIV testing, show support and commemorate those who have died.
Michael Stacey was diagnosed with AIDS in 2004, without knowing he had had HIV for about 10 years.
"I had an inkling, but it was very devastating, it was scary, I was frightened. That was August and I didn't think I'd live to see Christmas," said Stacey.
Stacey's immune system was severely damaged. His T cell count was 47, while a normal range is 500-1500. Once treated, the HIV virus was made undetectable in 3 weeks.
Since then, the treatment for HIV has changed. Stacey now takes one pill a day instead of 27.
But he said there is still a stigma around the virus, and a perception that it isn't something to worry about.
"You look at me and compared to a picture of someone what an AIDS diagnosis in the 80s, there's a big difference," said Stacey.
Both the number and rate of the new HIV cases per year in Wisconsin has declined, but increased among young men, especially those of color.
One in three black gay or bisexual men in Wisconsin is estimated to be living with HIV.
Each year there are about 230 new cases in the state.
"In Wisconsin, we have about 8,000 people living with HIV; about one in six don't know their diagnosis," said Amy Pease, a nurse practitioner at AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.
She said advances in treatment have given doctors the tools to end the epidemic, making the virus undetectable and untransmittable.
For the last two years, the ARCW has been offering patients with a high risk of contracting the virus a pill called pre-exposure prophylaxis or Prep.
Pease said men who have sex with men are the primary risk factor group, but people with an HIV-positive partner or those who use injectable drugs would also benefit from using Prep.
She said people still come in with misinformation about prevention, even after talking to their primary care doctors.
"I don't think that there's enough talking about it. Even just misconceptions about what HIV is, how you can catch it, how you can't catch it," said Pease.
Stacey hopes by sharing his story, he inspires others to get tested.
"Education is key and I think talking about it and freeing yourself from those personal chains, for me this is freeing to talk about it," said Stacey.
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