Now Hear This: AIDS Still Kills

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After years on the streets, using IV drugs and denying her HIV status, Earlene Hayden of Chicago checked herself into a hospital for three days. While in the hospital a 28–day bed opened up, and she pleaded for the bed, because she feared that if she went back on the streets she would die. The doctor gave her the bed, telling her, "You better not let me down." That was eight years ago. "I always wanted to be sober, but I was homeless and strung out for years," she says now. It wasn’t until Hayden got sober that she was able to face the fact that she was HIV positive.

AIDS has been called the modern day plague, fiercer than smallpox and polio. The disease doesn’t respect age, gender or race. Once thought to be a disease of gay men, AIDS now affects both sexes and has reached epidemic proportions in African–American women.

Despite its prevalence in the black community, many African–Americans still lack basic information about AIDS. Here are some facts:

  • AIDS develops from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is transmitted through homosexual or heterosexual contact, from sharing contaminated needles or from an infected mother to her unborn child.
  • HIV destroys the immune system, which normally keeps the body healthy. The resulting destruction to the body’s organs and tissues is called acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). There is no cure.
  • There may be no immediate signs or symptoms. A flu–like illness––with a runny nose, cough and swollen lymph nodes––may develop a month or two after the virus has been transmitted. But in many cases, HIV may remain dormant in a person’s system for as long as 10 years before AIDS develops. A blood test is the only way to check for the virus, which usually shows up in the bloodstream about six weeks to three months after being transmitted.
  • If you have HIV, taking medications immediately may delay the development of AIDS.
  • The best way to prevent AIDS is to prevent becoming infected with HIV. The best way to prevent HIV is to avoid having unprotected sex.
  • Women are more susceptible to receiving HIV from men because of the structure of the female anatomy. Semen from an infected partner may remain in a woman’s body if she has unprotected sex. Men also can get HIV from infected women.
  • African–American and Latina women have much higher rates of HIV because they tend to have partners who are high risk–bisexuals, multiple partners and drug users.
  • Babies with HIV–positive mothers are a 25–percent chance of being born with the virus, so it is imperative that all pregnant women be tested for HIV.

How can we lower our risk? These tips are from Helene Gayle, MD, former director of the National Center of HIV, STD and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Have sex only in a mutually monogamous, long–term relationship.
  • Use latex condoms during every sexual encounter, whether oral, vaginal or anal. Lambskin condoms don’t block transmission of the virus.
  • Do not assume a sexual partner does not have HIV because he or she does not look sick. People with HIV often appear healthy.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be infected with HIV, get tested immediately. For more information, call the CDC’s AIDS hotline, 1–800–342–AIDS.

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