One hundred seventy-seven people living in Angelina, Nacogdoches, and Jasper counties have either HIV or AIDS. Pamela Ferguson is one of them. She got infected with HIV after having unprotected sex back in 1999. Two years ago, she developed full blown AIDS.
"My whole family would get me my own plates, my silverware, cups, everything for me to eat and drink out of, and they would never touch it," said Ferguson. "They [were] scared to touch it. They would clean the toilet seat every single time after I went to the bathroom, when they went."
Despite having AIDS, Ferguson is moving on with her life. She and her fiancé had a baby girl in September. Her baby, her fiancé, and another young son are all HIV negative. Ferguson's message on World AIDS Day and every day is clear.
"I just want everybody who decides to have sex to use protection. It's the safe thing to do so they don't wind up having HIV or full blown AIDS."
All day Thursday, Planned Parenthood in Lufkin provided free HIV tests to anyone who wanted one. The Ora Quick test usually costs $70. It's needle-free and the results come back in less than 30 minutes.
Susan Rokes, the clinic's HIV prevention program director, said, "It's very accurate. However, there are a few false positives, so we always run a second and different test to confirm that someone does indeed have HIV."
The theme of World AIDS Day 2005 is "Keep the Promise" - a promise to be smart, healthy, and safe.
Most new HIV infections are in women under the age of 25. Many of those patients are African-American women.
Prevention was the message at the annual World AIDS Day forum at the civic center in Lufkin. Living with AIDS was part of the lesson for a group of Angelina County teenagers.
Currently in the U.S., two teenagers are infected with HIV every hour. That adds up to one teen in each state each day.
Mary Flemon, case manager for Health Horizons, said, "The main message for these children is prevention. Prevention is always the key. When I grew up, there was an old saying; 'An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure', and that's true."
After the forum, the civic center opened its doors to the public for free HIV testing.