I remember the first time I learned about HIV/AIDS. In the fourth grade, we watch a very dated video explaining it. It was kind of a big deal, we had to get a permission slip signed by our parents for us to watch it. I am from a conservative city, looking back, I think it was progressive for us to be watching it. Then a few years later I saw the musical masterpiece RENT. Not only is RENT a great musical, but it shows you a day in the life of people living with HIV. I have always thought after the AIDS epidemic, that HIV/AIDS wasn’t a serious health concern.
Was I wrong! There are an estimated 40,000 people a year who are diagnosed with HIV in the United States. It’s still relevant even though there isn’t an epidemic and people are dying, because we still as a society don’t understand the disease and there is a stigma associated with it. In one of my upper division health science classes in college this came up. My professor asked, us about HIV and how it is transmitted. One student (health science, almost health professional) answered gay people. The whole room went silent and I remember being shocked. Dude, you’re about to go into the health field and you are this ignorant. It’s not entirely his fault, I think in the US we still have a fear and stigma of this illness. We are afraid of what we don’t know, and make assumptions because we don’t know the real story behind it.
HIV Means What Exactly?
HIV is a virus, more specifically, it is a retrovirus. No, that doesn’t mean it was developed in Studio 54. A retrovirus takes the DNA of its host and reverses it transcription code. Let’s go back to high school biology. When DNA is going through the transcription process each DNA molecule has a code and if that code gets messed with all hell breaks loose. It affects a person’s immune system, by attacking their T cells. These types of cells get shit done when you’re sick. With a weak Immune system, the common cold can be a death sentence.
Where did HIV come from? Is probably your next question. Well, it originated in central Africa from a chimpanzee virus that mutated into HIV. The assumption that only gay people get it, is inaccurate. Someone picked it up in Africa and because of modern transportation, it traveled across the world. This where things get fuzzy for people. Yes, it does spread through body fluids, but not all.
Ways HIV is Transmitted
- Sharing Needles
- Mother to baby
Ways HIV is NOT Transmitted
If someone with HIV is standing next to you, don’t panic you won’t catch it. Unless, you’re standing next to each other passing a needle around.
Prevention Made Easy
Now, because of the AIDS epidemic, I feel people assume HIV is AIDS and AIDS equals death. This is not the case. HIV can lead to AIDS if kept untreated. Living a great life can happen with HIV. As a health professional, I would like to help people by practicing prevention instead of treatment. HIV can be prevented. You need to get tested. It’s that simple. 1 in 7 people doesn’t know they have HIV. There are lots of options when it comes to HIV testing. You can go get it done at a health clinic like Planned Parenthood. Here in Phoenix, Maricopa County charges $20 for HIV testing and also has free screenings twice a month. There is an HIV testing locator that can tell where the closest facilitated is in your area.
If getting a test done makes you uncomfortable, don’t fret, there is home testing. Ora Quick and Home Access HIV-1 are home testing options, but if you test positive then you have to have a follow-up test from a healthcare setting to confirm the results. You can always ask your primary care for a test. Practicing safe sex is another way to protect yourself from the virus. Using condoms is one way to having safer sex.
Don’t be afraid of get tested. Living with HIV is possible. Magic Johnson has been living with HIV since 1991. Treatment for HIV is possible. There is still a gap in HIV care between Blacks and Latinos. The more we talk about HIV, hopefully, everyone can receive the same care. December is HIV awareness month, but we shouldn’t have a month to reflect on this disease. Get tested and know your status. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. It might be scary, but the more you know about your health the better life choices you can make.