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      HIV numbers in the Valley dramatically on the rise

      Valley Aids Council officials said the spread of HIV in the Rio Grande Valley has gotten out of control.

      Just from January to April 2013, 200 people were diagnosed with HIV.

      Education Coordinator Oscar Lopez said there are now over 3,000 people infected in South Texas."

      Lopez attributes the shocking rise in cases to several factors such as lack of sex education amongst Hispanic families and NAFTA.

      "It's made a huge impact into who is in the Valley and what they are bringing and taking away from here as well," Lopez said.

      Illegal immigration is also a contributing factor.

      "There's also a lot of human trafficking in the Valley we have a lot of men and women who are brought here into the United States from Central America, Latin America and held against their will, and many get exploited," Lopez said.

      A mother of three, Marisol Calderon, 35, was first diagnosed with HIV two years ago.

      I was devastated, she said.

      Calderon was also shocked, because at the time of her diagnosis, she was in a committed relationship and engaged to a man she loved and trusted.

      She doesn't want to point fingers, but claims he disappeared around that same time, and she hasn't seen him since.

      "You do have thoughts that should never go in your mind - suicide, anger, retaliation, she said. But you have to take control and realize that this is happening and (you) need to do to get better."

      To control her HIV on a daily basis, Calderon works out, takes multi-vitamins and medication.

      She also stays positive and openly talks about her condition, in hopes she'll save lives.

      "There's so many women who don't empower themselves and tell their partners, ~hey wear a condom, TM" Calderon said.

      Calderon is an advocate for safe-sex and HIV testing, and is even on the Valley Aids Council board.

      She wants the message to be clear - take the test and know for sure.

      "It is scary to go in and get that lab work done, but what a relief to know you are healthy and here for your children," Calderon said.

      HIV mouth swab kits are available in pharmacies for a cost of about $65, or free at any of the three Valley Aids Council facilities located at:

      -857 E. Washington, Suite GBrownsville, Texas 78520

      -2306 Camelot PlazaHarlingen, Texas 78550

      -601 N. McColl, Suite BMcAllen, Texas 78501

      You can also contact VAC for more information at 1-800-333-SIDA.