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HIV Awareness

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

December 1st marked the 28th year the world has commemorated World AIDS Day. Please lend me an ear and a few minutes to remind you why HIV is a big deal.

In the 1980’s, HIV was largely dismissed as a disease of the so-called “immoral” -- men who have sex with men, prostitutes and intravenous drug users. In fact, it was quite some time before people even knew how HIV was transmitted. Because of the government’s inaction towards HIV - largely due to the unfairly perceived “immoral” people who were contracting it, over 600,000 people suffered and died needlessly. Today, HIV is a main stream infection – just as common among heterosexual persons (married and unmarried), youth and children.

Most of new HIV infections today are not found in the typical stereotyped persons of the 1980’s. It is in our innocent (I would take out innocent as it implies the people who became infected with HIV in the 80s were somehow responsible for being infected) and healthy looking children, friends and neighbors. Some people who are living with HIV today got their infection from accidental needle stick injuries, others from helping victims of a traffic accident and a few children got infected during childbirth from their infected mothers.

While the world has come a long way in openly confronting this illness, there remains a lot of secrecy, untamed risks and fear regarding HIV. Many people who have it keep the illness secret because of stigma associated with the disease. There are also a lot of people who do not know they have it and so keep spreading the virus to unsuspecting victims. Using condoms will protect you from unwanted pregnancy as well as every kind of STD. Unfortunately, only about 20% of people use them. Because very few (less than 10%) of all sexually active persons inquire or require to see their partners HIV or STD test results, some HIV positive persons knowingly engage in practices that put others at risk. Here are seven reasons you may want to support the “Hands Up” HIV prevention theme for this year:

  1. There are 1.2 million people (13 years and older) living with HIV in the United States, including 73, 000 Texans. The next one to be infected could be our neighbor, friend, (friend is here twice) child or friend.
  2. One out of every 10 people with HIV do not know they have it. A lot of people that test positive did not know they had it. Many people wait till it is too late to get tested. Getting tested early can save your life and limit the spread of the virus.
  3. You cannot tell who has HIV by looking –Anyone can be infected with HIV. If you cannot wait to have sex, challenge your partner to get tested with you prior to engaging in sexual relations. Testing is available at most healthcare outlets or check with the local state health office. Some “do it at home.” HIV test kits can also be purchased from retail pharmacies, Walmart or other outlets for less than $50.
  4. If you are HIV positive, consult your physician and please inform your partners that you have it. It is morally and legally wrong to knowingly expose others to HIV. If you know someone who might have it, please encourage them to check in with a healthcare provider.
  5. A lot of people who get HIV first get other sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia, Herpes, HPV, and Syphilis. Believe it or not, Chlamydia is the most commonly reported infectious disease in Texas and Val Verde County (of all disease conditions reportable to the state). The number of Chlamydia cases reported in the United States doubled between 2010 and 2015 – this increase may be a reflection of an increase in new cases (which is a proxy marker for high levels of unprotected sex) or it could be that more people are now getting tested for Chlamydia than before – either way the trend is concerning because untreated Chlamydia and Syphilis can make it easier for someone to contract HIV. More than half of men who have chlamydia don’t know they have it. Getting more men and women tested will help reduce the burden of illness in our community. Using condoms will protect you from all of these diseases.
  6. There are now drugs that you can take to prevent infection if you were sexually abused or accidentally exposure to someone who may have HIV. These drugs must be taken within 3 days of exposure for them to work. There are also several drugs one can take to keep the HIV under control so that it does not causes serious illness or spread to others.
  7. HIV is no longer a death sentence, it is not a disease of the “immoral” and it should not be the elephant in the room we all don’t talk about. It is a condition we should all give our Hands Up as we talk to one another, our kids, family and friends.

If you have any questions on this article or regarding HIV or STD’s, do not hesitate to call Dr. Owen Simwale at 830-778-3676

Dr. Simwale is the Infection Preventionist at Val Verde Regional Medical Center, prior to that he worked with infectious disease epidemiology group at the Pennsylvania State Department of Health.