For too long, the public face of HIV has mirrored that of Andrew Beckett, the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie Philadelphia. In this movie, Andrew is a frail appearing gay man fighting in a law suit against his employer who fired him due to his disease. They assumed that due to his weakened appearance and visible sarcoma skin lesions that he was a victim of HIV infection. During the 1980’s, this was the face of HIV. It was as easy to notice as a disheveled and dirty homeless person or someone fighting the battle of addiction to crack cocaine or heroin. There were floors within the hospital known as the “AIDS” floor filled with people fighting for their lives and losing their battles far too often to a premature death. Every so often, you would hear about the new diagnosis of a famous person like Magic Johnson, or a death like Rock Hudson, Eazy E or Arthor Ashe. Lately, HIV has been out of site and out of mind. This article’s purpose is to bring it back out to the forefront of reader’s minds.
Since the first recognized case in June 1981, there have been ~1.7million people in the United States who have been diagnosed and ~619,00 people have died. Every 9.5 minutes, someone in the United States, not the world, is infected with HIV. That means, in about the time it takes you to read this article, someone in the United States has been infected with HIV.
So what should you do to protect yourself?
- Use latex or polyurethane condoms for latex allergy consistently with water based lubricants to prevent condom breakage. Polyurethane condoms are available in Trojan Supra or Durex brands.
- Receptive anal sex without a condom greatly increases the risk of HIV transmission so use a condom with lots of water based lubricant.
- Male circumcision reduces transmission of HIV.
- Get tested every year regardless of your marital status and every 3-6 months if you have more than 1 sexual partner.
- Know your partner’s HIV status.
- Be monogamous.
One in five people living with HIV is not aware of their being infected. Patients with HIV are now healthier, maintaining a healthy weight and having less opportunistic infections. They are living longer and living more normal lives and, therefore, appear more normal which increases opportunity for spreading the disease. So, to see what the new face of HIV is today, you should look in the mirror. The face of HIV in America today looks like and me. Be safe my friends.