Today is World AIDS Day. Today, I am remembering my friends Jim and Paul, both of whom died in the early part of the 1980s AIDS holocaust.
I was born late enough that I was not part of the gay community while so many thousands of gay men died from the “gay cancer.” The generation who went through that was about seven or eight years older than me. But I was old enough that there were a few people in my life who died of it.
Some facts you may not know about AIDS/HIV:
1. THERE IS NO CURE. The anti-retroviral (ART) drugs that people take to control it are only controlling whether it reproduces inside a human being’s system. They do not kill it and they are not a vaccine. People who take the ART drugs can still infect other people through fluid contact.
2. You cannot catch HIV from hugging someone with HIV, from shaking hands with someone with HIV, from eating from the same plate as someone with HIV, or from using the same toilet as someone with HIV. HIV is fluid-borne, not airborne. Fluids which can carry and transmit the virus include blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal secretions.
3. People with HIV are considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
4. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV has killed more than 39 million people since the start of the epidemic. In 2013, 1.5 million people died from AIDS around the world.
5. Currently there are about 35 million people living with HIV worldwide (WHO).
6. 24.7 million of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa, the most affected region of the world. This region also accounts for more than 70% of all new HIV infections worldwide (WHO).
7. People infected with HIV can remain symptom-free for years. Just because you do not look like you have it does not mean you are free of HIV. According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 people who have been recently infected are not aware that they have the virus, and 1 in 6 who live with HIV are unaware of their viral status.
8. Nonwhites, especially blacks, are disproportionately affected by HIV. In 2010, 44% of new infections in the United States were African-American. Latinos accounted for 21% of new infections in the United States (CDC).
9. HIV is not a “gay disease.” Anyone can catch it. Although men who have sex with men are still the largest category of risk, straights can also contract HIV through sexual contact and through dirty needles used for drug injections (CDC).
10. The first known case of AIDS was a man who died in the Congo in 1959. Blood samples taken from him at the time of his death confirm he had HIV. His illness was not identified as HIV until much later.
11. I recommend reading the excellent book “And The Band Played On,” by Randy Shilts, as well as watching the movie that was made from it, to understand just how stupid we were at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Back then, HIV was one virus. Now, it has mutated over and over again. According to uhavax.hartford.edu/bugl/hiv.htm, there are three major groups of HIV variants, and one group has at least ten subtypes.
If the government had been willing to expend research money in 1982 or 1983, we could have stopped this thing. Now, we may never be able to.