HIV today: The risk rises

HIV today: The risk rises

Photographs courtesy of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

While we proclaim to be an enlightened society, we are still ignorant to HIV knowledge, said Jonna Cooley, executive director of Springfield Phoenix Center.

It is estimated that over one million individuals in the United States are living with HIV – one in six are unaware of their infection, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Moreover, nearly one in four new infections is found in young people between the ages of 13 and 25.

Scientists “believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood,” according to the AIDS Institute. They reported that the virus has existed in the U.S. since, at least, the mid-to-late 1970s.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HIV is found in specific infected bodily fluids including blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, breast milk, vaginal fluids and rectal mucous. They reported, “If any of these fluids enter your body, you can become infected with HIV.”

UIS and SIU school of Medicine Adjunct Professor Chris Chambers said, “Once the virus gains access to its host cell, basically it injects its RNA into the cytoplasm using enzymes. Viral loads of DNA are integrated and create duplications that begin to infect other cells in the body.”

The virus itself is spread in a multitude of ways, including sexual contact, pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding, injection drug use, work-related contact (healthcare industry), and rarely, organ transplants and blood transfusions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services.

“It’s predominantly blood-based conception. When the [skin] barrier breaks down, that is when you are at risk,” said Chambers. “You have to have access to the vasculature (arrangement of blood cells) to become infected with the virus.”

As of the end of 2010, one in four people living with a diagnosis of HIV in the United States were women, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“Women are assuming they are in a monogamous relationship with boyfriend, husband, partner, whoever and really, those men are having sex with other [infected partners],” said Cooley.

Cooley explained that many young people see HIV as having a cold or infection, saying that they believe they “can just take a pill” for it. There is a

“ ‘no big deal’ attitude with some of the young people” that come to the Phoenix Center.

According to Cooley, during a random sample last year, the Phoenix center tested five HIV positive individuals, all under the age of 30.

Cooley said, “We will test anyone who is at risk. The key is to connect people up with medical care and case management immediately.”

LGBTQA Resource Director Kerry Poynter said this may be because today’s students generally learn about sexual activity through experimentation or from the Internet. “There needs to be sex-positive conversations,” he said.

For more information on HIV visit aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics.