Louisiana’s health department says Bayou Classic fans can get free tests for the AIDS virus.

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by Janet McConnaughey

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s health department says Bayou Classic fans can get free tests for the AIDS virus.

Details are to be announced Wednesday at the Superdome, where two predominantly black schools — Southern and Grambling State universities — meet Saturday for the 37th annual game.

Officials say they’re trying to arm Louisiana’s black community with information about the disease, because the percentage of blacks among last year’s new HIV diagnoses in Louisiana was about double that in the state’s population — 75 percent to 32 percent. Fans tend to be evenly divided between students and alumni; last year’s game brought 53,600 to the Superdome.

The racial disparity in HIV is a long-standing problem nationwide, not just in Louisiana.

Although African-Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they made up 46 percent of the people who were living with the virus at the end of 2007.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 22 black Americans will be diagnosed with the AIDS virus in their lifetime. That’s more than double the risk for Hispanics and eight times that of whites.

In 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, Louisiana had the nation’s fourth-highest rate of infection with the virus, at 29 percent. Only Florida, Georgia and New York State had higher rates.

In Louisiana, more than half the 1,220 new cases in 2009 were in Department of Health and Human Resources’ New Orleans and Baton Rouge regions. The four-parish New Orleans region had 389 new diagnoses, and the seven-parish Baton Rouge region had 308.

Blacks made up 41 percent of the New Orleans region, which also includes Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, and 69 percent of the people newly diagnosed with HIV or AIDS last year.

In the Baton Rouge region, 41 percent of the population and 89 percent of the people newly diagnosed with the virus are African-American. That region comprises East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Iberville, Pointe Coupee and Ascension parishes.

OraSure Technologies, Inc., which makes devices that check for the virus, and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s "Greater Than AIDS" program are participating in Saturday’s campaign.

The CDC figures come from 37 states and 5 US dependent areas with long-term, confidential, name-based HIV reporting.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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