Human Immunodeficiency Virus from My Vantage Point

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By Priscilla Mensah

Perhaps one of the most stigmatized diseases out there, H.I.V., has ravaged the communities of many different states and countries for over thirty years. Even more alarming, neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights are purported to have some of the highest incidences of H.I.V. in all of New York City. Standing for human immunodeficiency virus(H.I.V.), it started out as a disease that mainly homosexual males contracted. These days, for varying reasons, women also fall victim to this disease. Some women have contracted this disease due to unsterilized intravenous needle use. Others were infected by their infected mothers while in the womb. Some have caught it from their cheating and/or homosexual spouses.

Since H.I.V. was first discovered, there have been great advances in the way that the disease is treated. No longer a death sentence, it is possible for someone who has H.I.V. to live a prosperous and full life. One of the most well-known people with H.I.V. is former National Basketball Association(NBA) player Ervin “Magic” Johnson. Johnson is happily married and credits his personalized medication regimen with helping to maintain his health. Everyone is different. A medication regimen that works for one person, may not be so good for someone else.

Truthfully, I am still not completely sure how H.I.V. is contracted. Perhaps my ignorance, as well as those of many others, is one of the reasons why neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights have seen higher than normal H.I.V. rates. As someone who attended one of the few high schools in Brooklyn that teaches H.I.V. education, I still do not fully understand the disease. Can you imagine how deep in the dark someone who has never learned anything in school about the disease may be? I do know, however, that there are many misconceptions as to how you can get it. Contrary to popular belief, H.I.V. is not spread through saliva, sweat, feces or urine. That is a fact that I still recall my gym teacher instilling in my classmates and I at Brooklyn Technical High School.

It is highly unlikely that one contracts H.I.V. from kissing. If an H.I.V.-infected person has open mouth sores or bleeding gums, then infection is possible. This fact has always befuddled me because I often have bleeding gums, especially when I brush my teeth. I am sure that many other people also have bleeding gums. If that is true, why do health experts okay kissing? According to nhs.uk, “a combination of enzymes and antibodies found naturally in saliva prevents H.I.V. from infecting new cells”. Although the statement about saliva makes perfect sense, a question still burns my mind. Namely, what about the many people who likely have bleeding gums? Perhaps my being honest about my ignorance may prompt doctors to see that there are many others like me who still have these lingering questions.

Shaking the hands of someone with H.I.V. is also perfectly okay. I would recommend, however, if you happen to be in a relationship with someone who has H.I.V. to do your own research so that you are as safe as possible. One of the best ways to reduce your risk of getting H.I.V. is by using protection. It is also extremely critical that you know the H.I.V. status of your sexual partner before engaging in sexual activities with them (Centers for Disease Control).
Now for the ways that you can get the disease. It is possible to contract H.I.V. from “blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, breast milk and preseminal fluid”, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports. Slightly graphic? Yes. But this information is necessary to know if one wants to greatly reduce their risk of catching the virus. There are also new medications being developed that are said to reduce the risk of one passing on the virus to their partner. Charlie Sheen has said that he is currently using this specific medication. Besides, if infamous bad-boy Charlie Sheen advocates for it, then you know it is solid, right?

Priscilla Mensah is an avid reader and scholar who resides in Brooklyn, New York. Her passions include community empowerment and improvement. Priscilla can be reached at pmensahbrooklyn@gmail.com.