Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spread The Word: HIV

I was watching Extreme Home Makeover the other day. TY Pennington blabbered on in his extremely annoying voice as he ran across the yard of a lucky family whose house was about to be made over. Ty Pennington shouted, Broadbent family, we are here! The family members ran out of their crumbling home with huge smiles on their faces. A few minutes later, it was shown to the TV audience that some children in that family were living with HIV. 

TY mistakenly said, "It is terrible to be living with AIDS." Repeatedly throughout the show, several cast-mates continued to make the same mistake by referring HIV as AIDS. I threw up my hands in frustration.

From living in DC for 2 years,  I became aware what AIDS was all about, and often felt slightly annoyed when people misused AIDS to refer to those living with HIV. But I was not the one to blame them. After all, I used to make the very same mistake. 

In reality, AIDS continues to be a terribly misunderstood virus. More often than not, when I bring up the topic of HIV, I am often met with answers such as these:

Oh that's gay man's disease. Straight people can't get them. 

AIDS is  a death sentence.

Only Africans get AIDS. 

You can't really live with AIDS. 

Only lesbians get AIDS.

I can't get AIDS.  I use protection.

You can get AIDS from sharing a drink.

What is HIV? 

Wow. HIV is considered to be a problem only found in GLBT community? HIV is only found among blacks? Only the poor get HIV? If you use protection, then you can't get HIV. Once you get HIV, you are finished, right? 

Let me tell you. All the assumptions I have heard.....are terribly off and wrong. Let me explain quickly what terminologies are. HIV is an abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In layman term, it just means you are infected with the virus. The person living with this virus is the person living with HIV not AIDS. A person can have absolutely no symptoms of HIV for up to ten years before becoming diagnosed. Just think of Jenny from Forrest Gump the movie.  

AIDS is an abbreviation for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Now People, listen up! THIS IS WHEN YOU ARE IN YOUR FINAL STAGE OF LIVING WITH HIV. Okay? It occurs when you are on your death bed, and dying of opportunistic infection. Even so, you really don't die from HIV virus itself. You die of complications since your immune system is so compromised and weak. You are mostly likely to die from an opportunistic infection. Now, what does that mean? An opportunistic infection is caused by a pathogen (bacterial; pneumonia, viral; cold, fungal; ringworm, or protozoan; E-Coli). The right time you can say a person is afflicted with AIDS when the person is actually dying of it.

To clarify some assumptions......

Straight people can get HIV. 
Gay people can get HIV.
Kids can get HIV.
Mothers can get HIV. 
Grandfathers can get HIV.
Your neighbor can get HIV.
A christian, A muslim, an atheist, or a Jew can get HIV. 
Hearing or Deaf people can get HIV.
You don't just get HIV through sexual contact.
It AFFECTS everyone regardless your sexual orientation, religion, intelligence, color, or disability. 

There are 3 ways that you can get HIV: 

1) SEXUAL contact (Oral, Anal, or vaginal sex)
2) Blood (Transfusion albeit extremely rare these days now or needle sharing) 
3) Mother to child (breastfeeding infected milk, or sharing blood circulation in the womb)

Testing Result:

If you suspect that you have HIV then please get yourself tested through your doctor's office. If you are not comfortable with getting tested at such familiar area then go to Planned Parenthood, or AIDS Resource Center (every state do have one).

When you are positive; it means you HAVE the virus.
If you get negative result then it means you DO NOT have the virus.

Once you have the virus, then you are living with HIV and you must take steps to maintain your T-cells. T-cells are the white cells that "fights off" your everyday bugs and keep you healthy. It DOES NOT mean you are living with a death sentence. It does not mean end of your sex life. It does not mean you are doomed.

Communicate with your doctors. Use protection. Be honest with your sexual partner. Inform your previous sexual partners so they can also get themselves tested. Take your medication. Participate in support group. Get clean if you are using. Participate in NA/AA group to stay clean. Get a therapist to work out your emotional struggles. Keep your true friends close to your heart. Inform your family members. Educate. With today's technology and medical advancements, you are able to live a long life with HIV.

You CAN'T GET HIV by: 

A hug. Holding hands. Being a friend. Causal contact. Everyday contact. A kiss. A public pool. A mosquito bite. Dancing together. Sharing food. Sitting on toilet. Touching items that are previously touched by an infected person. Touching a doorknob. Washing on the same towel. Shaking a hand with an infected person. A haircut. A cat scratch. Someone being different from you.

It seems that, to me, these days HIV is often put aside out of sight, and out of the mind. AIDS continues to be misused to describe HIV. Despite medical advancements and education, I still meet people who are misinformed, or afraid of those living with HIV. When I explain to folks about HIV, I am often asked by them:

Do you have HIV?

While it's a legitimate question, my answer is no. You don't have to be HIV positive to give voice to HIV community. You can become an ally. Stand up. Spread the word. Help to reduce or even abolish stigma for those living with HIV.