HIV is still kicking our ass – and by “our” I’m referring to all of us collectively. The royal we, so to speak. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), based on last year’s data, there were 47,352 newly diagnosed HIV cases. Additionally, 26,688 people were diagnosed with AIDS. I wonder if those numbers will change much with the current year. These baffling numbers confuse me. We know what HIV and AIDS are and how the virus spreads. It’s not like it was back before it was first discovered in 1983. Before then, people were dying and nobody knew why. People were sick and were getting infected and nobody knew the source. For a long time (and even to some extent the bias still exists today), AIDS and HIV was viewed as a “gay disease” by some people. Upon death, it varied widely what appeared on the death certificate. Cause of death was often “Natural Causes/Unknown Cause” or some similar finding. Even after HIV was identified, there was a lack of clarity about how to get it. There was a lot of bias and discrimination around it, even the quarantining of infected persons or persons thought to be infected. It was bad.
Times have changed. We know what it is now and how people get infected: (1) many people got the virus from infected blood or from unsanitary equipment during medical procedures; (2) other people got infected when they were born – it was passed to them from their mother who was infected; (3) some people get infected following a sexual assault; and (4) there is also a high infection rate among intravenous drug users who share needles.
According to both the CDC, and the Chief Medical Editor of emedicinehealth.com, the lion’s share of HIV infections is the result of persons who have unprotected sex with an infected partner. This is the one that confuses me. Those other infection methods (i.e., drug use, in pregnancy, sexual victimization, and medical equipment) are a little more palatable. But when we know the source and we make choices to cause us to get infected anyway by having wanton, unprotected sex, that is troubling.
The most bothersome fact I just learned is that youth between the ages of 13 and 24 account for 26% of all new HIV cases. That equates to about 12,300 youth who were infected with HIV last year. You can barely turn on a television or radio or look in a newspaper or magazine without seeing a PSA for safe sex practices or an ad for HIV meds. I also see these ads and PSAs when riding the subway and on billboards around town. The message is out there, but it looks like it’s not getting through.
So, we need to message it better to help educate people more clearly. This is one circumstance where I think you can’t have too much information. HIV doesn’t discriminate.