. . . but not necessarily celebrate
By Kelly A. McCann
In keeping with OutSmart ‘s 15th birthday, and the themed historic anniversary issue, here are 15 Random Things about HIV/AIDS:
1. You’re older than you look. For more than two decades, scientists have worked to discover the origin of HIV. A variety of theories have been developed, but the latest study, published in Nature in 2008, dated the origin of HIV to between 1884 and 1924. This study suggests HIV is potentially much older than previously thought (earlier studies had traced HIV back to 1959 and 1931, respectively.)
2. Grecian formula, Centrum Silver, and HIV. A growing number of older people have HIV/AIDS. In fact, 19 percent of all Americans living with the disease are 50 years old and older. And in the city of Houston, nine percent of new HIV infections since 1999 have occurred in persons over the age of 49. There are physical and sociological reasons for these rates of infection, but the bottom line is this: everyone, regardless of age (or gender or sexual orientation or race) needs to know how HIV is transmitted and how it can be prevented.
3. April is National STD Awareness Month (but I hope you didn’t get anything). Remember, having a sexually transmitted disease or infection like syphilis or chlamydia actually makes it easier for you to contract HIV if you are exposed to it. That’s because STDs cause sores and/or other tissue irritation, which makes it easier for HIV to enter your body.
4. It must have been something I ate. Food safety is a vitally important issue for people living with HIV/AIDS, because their impaired immune systems make them more susceptible to food-related illnesses. Moreover, once contracted, the infections can be difficult to treat and they can come back over and over. This further weakens the immune system, hastens the progress of HIV disease, and can even be fatal. Be careful what you put in your mouth!
5. And whatever is left over can go for prenatal care, heart health, TB, and diabetes. As of February 28, 2009, there were 2,449 inmates living with HIV/AIDS in the Texas prison system—about 1.6 percent of the total inmate population. However, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice spends half (50 percent) of its pharmacy budget on HIV medications!
6. If you can’t rely on a convict, then who can you rely upon? HIV-infected inmates in Texas prisons are given a 10-day supply of medication upon their release from incarceration. Once they are back in the community, offenders have access to HIV medications through a government-funded program. But get this: according to a study recently published by the University of Texas Medical Branch, just 30 percent of the HIV-infected inmates released from Texas prisons between 2004 and 2007 filled a prescription for antiretroviral medications. Worse still, studies suggest released inmates who discontinue antiretroviral therapy also return to high-risk behaviors like sharing needles or having unprotected sex.
7. If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. Since the early days of the epidemic, the average life expectancy for someone with HIV/AIDS has increased drastically. In the 1980s, most people with AIDS died within 18 months of their diagnosis. Now it is expected that most patients will live at least 24 years after entering HIV care!
8. Will you take a post-dated check? Extra years of life expectancy (thanks to improved HIV medications) is great news, but it comes with a large price tag. According to a 2006 study conducted by a Cornell, Johns/Hopkins, Harvard, and Boston University research team, 24 years of HIV treatment costs a staggering $618,900!
9. Latex is our friend. Since 1981, 25,548 Houstonians have been diagnosed with AIDS. At least 70 percent of those persons became infected with HIV through unprotected sexual activity. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times, but it is important: wear a condom every time you have sex!
10–13. Say it with numbers. According to the city of Houston’s Bureau of HIV/STD and Viral Hepatitis Prevention:
10. One in 98 persons living in Houston is also living with HIV/AIDS.
11. There were 1,700 new HIV infections in Houston in 2006.
12. One in 46 black Houstonians is HIV-positive.
13. Among gay men in Houston, one in 17 is infected with HIV!
14. Just like a pill. In March 1987, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first AIDS drug, AZT. Since that time, 31 additional medications (in seven different categories) have received FDA approval for treatment of HIV infection.
15. And one more for the road. A 2007 study from Boston University School of Medicine found a link between alcohol consumption and HIV-disease progression. The greatest reduction in CD4 (or T) cells was observed in HIV-infected, heavy-alcohol users who were not on antiretroviral therapy. So while you are toasting OutSmart ‘s 15th anniversary, limit yourself to one or two glasses of champagne.
Kelly A. McCann is the chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston. To learn more about HIV, contact AFH at 713/623-6796 or www.AIDSHelp.org.