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Here's to your health, with some impact

Today’s edition of the Maryland Independent is a little thicker than usual, and that’s a very good thing.

Tucked inside today’s paper is our special Health Impact section, a full-sized publication chock full of information aimed at helping you and your family get the most out of feeling well.

And in this strangest of years so far from a public health standpoint, we need to be armed with all the information we can. The coronavirus pandemic has intruded into virtually every facet of our lives, and health experts are still preaching caution and prevention even as things are opening up a bit in terms of social gatherings and commerce.

Last year’s inaugural health section won a Maryland Delaware D.C. Press Association award for its content and design, and this year’s version is keeping the bar high. In it, among other topics, you will read about:

• Virtual pet visits and how they are being used to help folks reduce stress during the pandemic;

• How gyms are transitioning back into business, some with outdoor classes and events;

• At-home fitness routines you can start now;

• A company that has applied for a patent for a new kind of COVID-19 test;

• Distilling businesses that have switched gears during the pandemic to produce hand sanitizer;

• How to overcome anxiety about the pandemic;

• How stress hormones can be controlled;

• How healthy dads can lead to healthy families through their good example;

• So-called “superfoods” and other helpful dietary tips;

• Nurses, their importance and their selfless contributions to the health of all;

• Preparing for a virtual doctor visit;

• Marking Men’s Health Month by touting the benefits of yoga for men;

• How to overcome vitamin deficiencies; and

• The need for restful sleep, and how it affects all aspects of our lives.

And as our Health Impact section inspires you to think about how to take care of yourself and those you love, this weekend marks another important spot on the calendar: Saturday, June 27, is National HIV Testing Day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.2 million people in the United States have human immunodeficiency virus. The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested at least once as part of their routine health care. People who are at higher risk should get tested more often, the agency recommends.

For people with undiagnosed HIV, testing is the first step in maintaining a healthy life and reducing the spread.

According to the Maryland Department of Health, there were 997 new HIV diagnoses in Maryland in 2018 (the latest year reported). That marked the first time since 1986 that the state had fewer than 1,000 new cases. The worst year for new HIV diagnoses was 1991, when there were 2,612 cases reported.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is an infectious blood-borne pathogen that can lead to severe immune system suppression and death. When treated, HIV is a manageable chronic disease, and people who achieve HIV suppression can live healthy lives.

The goal of the national testing day is to raise awareness about the importance of getting tested through initiatives like school and family outreach, getting people in the community to learn about and talk about HIV/AIDS. The three local health departments in Southern Maryland are loaded with information about the virus, and are always willing to share that knowledge with the public.

Fortunately, modern treatments for HIV-positive individuals can help those with HIV go on to live full, active lives and keep them from progressing to the AIDS stage. Those most at risk who should consider getting tested, according to the health department, include anyone who has had sex without a condom (yes, even just once), had sex with more than one partner, previously had a sexually transmitted disease or ever shared a needle with someone.

Of course, anyone can contract HIV — both women and men, both straight and gay. The only way to know for sure if you have it is to get tested. So if you’re uncertain of your status, find out. In the spirit of our Health Impact section, knowledge is the first step.