HIV: Not a Thing of the Past

In the 1990s, three letters instantly sparked fear within many Americans. During this time, HIV/AIDS was a growing epidemic that affected nearly 100,000 people in the United States alone. The disease was misunderstood and often linked to homosexuality, drug abusers and those who solicited the services of prostitutes. The diagnosis not only brought the fear of death to many, but also led many into depression because of the stigma surrounding the disease. While some chose to remain silent, many celebrities went public with their battles and served as advocates for the disease and educated masses.

Perhaps the most shocking death attributed to the disease was that of rapper Eazy-E from the rap group NWA. Eazy died due to complications less than a month after his diagnosis. However, HIV/AIDS isn’t necessarily a death sentence. Public figures like Magic Johnson and Jerry Herman have admitted to contracting the disease, yet they live a relatively normal life. However, as years passed, many less people disclosed their battles, and HIV/AIDS was no longer a newsworthy topic.

Fast forward to November 2015, and the world was shocked when actor Charlie Sheen publicly admitted to being HIV positive. Sheen confessed that he was diagnosed nearly four years ago and has since been taking medications to prevent the disease from progressing into AIDS. He also revealed that he kept the diagnosis a secret and spent nearly $10 million in order to prevent his diagnosis from being public knowledge. This confession shocked many and also brought an important topic back into the spotlight.  

The disease is more relevant now than ever before. College campuses and youths alike are currently living in a hook-up culture in which exploring your sexuality with more than one non-romantically linked partner has become the norm. Being infected with the disease isn’t as farfetched as many think.

HIV is certainly not a thing of the past. In fact, many college students are diagnosed with the virus. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those in the age group 13-24 accounted for approximately 26 percent (12,200) of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010. Yet more than half of youth infected with the virus are unaware that they are. In 2012 there were nearly 62,400 youths living with HIV in the United States, with 32,000 living undiagnosed.

HIV is a human immunodeficiency virus that the body is unable to get rid of, meaning once you have the disease, you have it for life. Despite the advances of modern medicine, a cure for the disease has yet to be found. Considering the amount of people who are unaware that they are infected, it is extremely crucial to understand how it is spread. HIV can be spread from an infected person to another through the direct contact the body fluids. However, only certain body fluids from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. This includes blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. The most common way of getting the virus is by having sex with someone who is HIV positive and through the sharing of needles and/or syringes.

A common misconception? HIV and AIDS are the same, which is wrong. HIV can turn into AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS develops in the late stages of HIV in which an HIV-infected person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Due to the advances of modern medicine, most people who are HIV positive do not progress to AIDS.

Another common misconception is that once you’re infected, you can’t have sex. This is false because there are numerous ways to reduce the risk of spreading it.

Advances in medicine have figured out ways of maintaining a healthy sex life with your partner through routine checkups and daily medication consumption. However, taking these medications and making your partner aware of your disease is crucial. Just this year, Michael Johnson, a 23-year-old college student, was sentenced to 30-plus years in prison on HIV criminalization-related charges. Johnson was found guilty of lying and failing to inform his sexual partners about his HIV-positive status, which led to the infection of one.

Despite the stigmas, It’s important for college students to be tested and be aware of their partners’ sexual statuses. For more information, please visit the CDC’s website. If you suspect you have HIV/AIDS, please locate the nearest testing center in your area.

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