BLOOMINGTON — McLean County residents may welcome the holiday season on Friday while remembering people whose lives have been touched by HIV/AIDS.

A tree-lighting ceremony to commemorate Worlds AIDS Day will be at 4 p.m. Friday outside Hy-Vee, 1403 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington.

The ceremony, sponsored by the McLean County Health Department with Central Illinois Friends and Prairie Pride Coalition, will include speakers impacted by HIV. Red ribbons, an international symbol of AIDS awareness and support for people with HIV, will be available for people to place on the tree or to wear, said Lisa Slater, health department public health communications specialist.

Following the ceremony, attendees will be invited to The Bistro, 316 N. Main St., Bloomington, where information will be available about local health resources and testing options, Slater said.

While World AIDS Day has been observed on Dec. 1 for several years, the health department decided to mark the day this year at a high-traffic location to send the message that the story of HIV and AIDS isn't over, Slater said.

More responsible behavior and better medicines are contributing to fewer people dying of HIV complications and more people living with HIV as a chronic disease.

But HIV prevalence is increasing among people ages 20 through 25 who didn't come of age when more Americans were dying of HIV/AIDS and who are more likely to engage in risky sexual activity that puts them at greater risk of disease, said Melissa Graven, health department communicable disease supervisor.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of June 30, 89 McLean County residents were living with HIV and 86 were living with AIDS. Statewide, 19,058 people were living with HIV and 19,481 were living with AIDS.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks white blood cells that protect against illness and can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), a disease that weakens the immune system so the body can't fight off potentially fatal infections.

HIV is found in the bodily fluids of infected people and may be spread by having sex with an HIV-infected person or by sharing needles or injection equipment with an infectious person. An HIV-infected woman may transmit it to her baby during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

"When people say they don't know someone with HIV/AIDS, I tell them 'You don't know whether you know someone with HIV/AIDS. People don't want to talk about it.'"

Slater said "I believe, in this day and age, there is little that is truly 'someone else's problem.' We all are so interconnected. This event is an opportunity for the community to come together."

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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