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what you will find inside the December issue ...
by Bri Allison
Let’s Stop the Stigmas and Discrimination Against HIV and AIDS
introducing our new book
click here to learn more
from the desk of the Managing Editor
Welcome to the December issue of Today's Patient. This issue is filled with a special collection of articles for the holiday season. As we celebrate the holidays, we have much thanks for our talented editorial staff who bring you innovative and informative articles each month, and we look forward in the new year to continuing our dedication to bringing you the topics that matter the most to you in this monthly format.
Wishing everyone a joyous December and a happy new year!
Let’s Stop the Stigmas and Discrimination Against HIV and AIDS
by Bri Allison
HIV and AIDS carry a lot of stigmas. Since the 1980s when the HIV and AIDS epidemic started, people who are HIV-positive have faced immense discrimination and prejudice because of their disease. Even today, many Americans lack a basic understanding of the infections because their knowledge of HIV and AIDS is limited to misconceptions that have been around since the beginning of the epidemic. It’s time we do our part to educate ourselves on HIV and AIDS so that we can raise awareness, and stop the stigma.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus causes damage to the immune system by attacking cells that help the body fight infection, which in turn makes the person more exposed to other diseases and infections. HIV is unfortunately a lifelong disease. There is no cure for HIV nor can the body get rid of the virus.
Is there treatment?
However, there is treatment available. There is an HIV medication called antiretroviral therapy, also known as ART, that can be prescribed to reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to a low level. When the HIV in the blood is so low that a lab can’t detect the virus, the person has achieved an undetectable viral load.
So if someone with HIV reaches an undetectable viral load, takes the medicine as prescribed, and can keep an undetectable viral load, then they can live a long and happy life. They also will not have to worry about transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.
How is it transmitted?
HIV is transmitted through contact with certain bodily fluids of someone who is HIV-positive, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, amniotic fluid, pre-ejaculate, and rectal fluids. The most common transmissions are during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or medicine to prevent or treat HIV) or through sharing injection drug instruments like needles or syringes.
However, there are now ways to help prevent getting HIV through sex or drug use, such as the medicine PrEP which is pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP which is post-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a medicine used as a preventative measure for people at risk of getting HIV from sex or drug use and PEP is a medicine that can be taken within 72 hours after possibly being exposed to the virus.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and is the third & final stage of HIV. When a person is diagnosed with AIDS their immune system is severely damaged and at this point of the infection, they can have a very high viral load which means that they can easily transmit HIV to others.
Without proper HIV medication, a person diagnosed with AIDS will typically only have 3 years left to live. Most people in the United States that have HIV don’t develop AIDS because they take the HIV medication as prescribed which stops the progression of the infection.
What are the stigmas surrounding HIV and AIDS?
HIV only affects certain groups of people.
Although some people are at a higher chance of contracting HIV, the virus can be transmitted to anyone. It does not matter your gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. According to WebMD, about 1 in 6 men and 3 in 4 women who have heterosexual contact with an infected person have contracted HIV.
HIV can be transmitted through touch or you can get it from being around someone who is HIV-positive.
No, you can’t contract HIV through touch like hugging, shaking hands, or using the same equipment that an HIV-positive person has used. You can’t contract it from saliva by kissing, using the same water fountain, or sharing utensils. You can’t contract HIV by breathing the same air, or touching their tears, pee, or sweat. The CDC has confirmed that HIV is spread through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, amniotic fluid, pre-ejaculate, and rectal fluids.
I could tell if my partner is HIV positive.
Someone could have HIV for years without ever knowing because they might not present any symptoms. So the only way to truly know is to get tested. The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 18 and 64 should be tested.
HIV can only result in death.
At the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, the death rate was very high because they didn’t have the necessary medicine or treatment options that we have today. Thankfully, we have the resources, such as ART, PrEP, and PEP that have drastically increased the life expectancy of those who are diagnosed with HIV. If you’re HIV-positive, you can still live a long and happy life.
HIV isn’t as big of a concern as it used to be.
Although HIV diagnosis and treatment have come a long way since the 1980s, it still is a global public health concern. As of August of this year, about 38 million people worldwide were diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
The discrimination against those with HIV and AIDS
People who are diagnosed with HIV or AIDS often face discrimination and are ashamed of their diagnosis because of the prevailing stigma. Those who are living with HIV may be refused housing, health care services, and/or be fired from their job.
Their job could be terminated because of the increased healthcare needs that they need such as time off for doctor appointments or testing. They also might be discriminated against by their superiors or co-workers for being diagnosed with HIV. Because of their lack of employment, they may have trouble finding adequate housing. Those who are HIV-positive may also be discriminated against by their landlord or their neighbors. Lastly, they could be denied services by a healthcare provider who is not fully educated on HIV.
Their relationships can also suffer from stigma and discrimination. Someone who is HIV-positive may be subjected to bullying, rejection, gossip, and can even experience violence from others. The misconceptions can also impact their sexual relationships.
And all of these challenges, discrimination, and stigma that those with HIV have to endure impacts their mental health negatively. They can even have internalized stigma about HIV. They then can struggle with their self-worth, depression, anxiety, addiction, and more.
It is important to educate ourselves on HIV and AIDS to help fight against the stigma and end the discrimination that those who have been diagnosed face. December is HIV and AIDS awareness month so there’s no better time to educate, speak up, and be a part of the movement to erase the HIV and AIDS stigma.
Brianna Allison graduated from Duquesne University with a Bachelor’s degree in Multiplatform Journalism and one in Public Relations. Brianna has a strong passion for storytelling and loves being a part of a media-enriched environment. She has worked in broadcast journalism, social media, and print journalism in the past. In addition to role as Managing Editor of Today's Patient, Bri is a member of the broadcast team for The Power of the Patient Project and also is a member of our executive team as Director of Communications.
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