Today LSWestOnline recognizes World AIDS Day, a chance to consider those affected by HIV/AIDS and to better understand what that diagnosis means.
Teacher Mindy Edwards teaches about the disease in her health classes. She said it is transmitted “through blood and bodily fluids.”
HIV doesn’t usually show many symptoms other than something that resembles the flu at around two weeks after being contracted, said Edwards. Later on, however, it will continue to break down the immune system until things like a simple cold can kill the patient.
“It’s killing your white blood cells and replicating in many different ways. You can die of pneumonia or colds or other issues,” said Edwards, “when the T-Cell count is less than 200, HIV becomes classified as AIDS.”
In order to prolong the patient’s life, Edwards said a sort of ‘cocktail’ of medications is needed. However, she said “they won’t work after a period of time.” The body will eventually become used to the medications and require new ones.
Beth Cramer-Cumins, an English teacher, said she has a good friend who lost his partner to AIDS. “The process of him dying was horrific. His partner took care of him until he was dead, though he was HIV positive when they met.”
Cramer-Cumins said that the two “were extra careful and got tested often” in order to detect early the presence of HIV in the partner who was negative for HIV.
While treatment can add years to life, the medication, said Edwards, is costly. “Poor countries don’t always have options.”
Chemistry Teacher John Gray, who goes on medical mission trips as a respiratory therapist, said a doctor he has worked with in Cambodia, Dr. Johnson, helps out at an AIDS clinic there. “He’s adopted four kids from there whose teen moms died from AIDS.”
Gray said that in Cambodia, “they can’t afford anything and [HIV] is pretty rampant. People are so poor they can’t afford protection and there’s a culture of promiscuity.”
“It’s sad that these girls get AIDS and then they have babies,” said Gray.
Math Teacher LeAnn Adams, who takes mission trips to Honduras, said she knows about the problems with health care in developing countries. Teen girls giving birth are placed in “this big giant room with 18 to 25 other teen moms with doctors and nurses running around. There’s no privacy at all, whatsoever. They send them home the next day.”
Adams said that oftentimes “people have to bring their own medicine to the hospital.” The lack of medical care means HIV is much harder to manage and life expectancies are shorter without medication.
While it is commonly believed that HIV is only a problem in the gay male community of the US, Edwards said, “it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, if you’re gay or straight, if you’re male or female. It is also a big issue for IV drug users.”
Edwards also said that “condoms are not safe and can’t protect 100%. It’s like any other STD. You are trusting that [your partner] is being honest or even know that they may not be telling you because you don’t know.”
“It’s through bodily fluids; it doesn’t matter who to who,” said Edwards.
Cramer-Cumins said her friend “spends a lot of his time trying to convince young gay men to be careful and they just aren’t.” She said that raising awareness about the issue is important alongside educating young people about being safe.
“Obviously losing his partner was difficult, but the ongoing knowledge that the disease will spread has really affected him,” said Cramer-Cummins.