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Please Get Help Before It's Too Late!

Jan 12, 1998

Dear Michael:

I just read the "spent $4,000 on tests" post and would like to add a few comments. Hopefully, my comments may be of help to the person who left that message or someone else who is going through the nightmare that I have endured over the past year. Although the person who left that message claims that this site has helped "ease" his anxieties, I suspect, from the remainder of his message, that, as it was for me, exactly the opposite is true. There is no question that this site is a very valuable resource for persons infected with HIV and for those seeking reliable information about safe sex and HIV prevention, etc. HOWEVER, this site (and others like it) can be very dangerous for those people struggling with irrational and overwhelming fear following a possible exposure to the virus. The danger lies not in anything that you or anyone else on the site does or says, but rather in the psychological make-up of the people that I am referring to. I know because I am one of those people. Following a high risk exposure, and flu-like symptoms, I did not go to a doctor, but rather turned to The Body (and other sites) to try to determine if I was infected. I spent HUNDREDS of hours researching HIV and the symptoms of primary infection, often staying up all night. The more I researched, the more I convinced myself that I was infected. I now realize that if you search long enough you can match virtually any "symptom" to HIV infection. Once I made my self-diagnosis, my life spiraled out of control. I started extensively researching my treatment options on this and other sites. I even picked out my initial triple combo. Then there was the testing. I spent THOUSANDS of dollars on every HIV test known to mankind (countless ELISAs, DNA PCRS, Viral Loads, Antigen tests, and so on). The negative results, however, did not matter as I simply used the Internet to determine how I could be infected despite the negative results (e.g., I had "type O," I was the second person in history to not develop antibodies, I had an undetectable "recombinant" virus, and so on). To make a long story short, I bankrupted myself, lost all of my friends and nearly lost my job. In what I viewed as an act of desperation, I entered psychological counseling. Frankly, it has saved my life. I am now learning the basis for what I now realize is an irrational fear and I am learning how to control it. It's a long process, but I know that, in the end, I will be able to regain my life. So, I guess I'd just like to say to anyone out there who is going through what I did -- find some professional help! Log off the internet, cancel that next ELISA or PCR and make an appointment with a counselor. It is the only way you will be able to break the vicious and self-destructive cycle that you are in. I know first hand that scouring the Internet and/or having every HIV test in the book will NOT solve these kinds of problems. Counseling, on the other hand, will help you.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Thank you for your warm and important response to the individual who wrote earlier. I completely agree with you and that is why I urge all who are worried about whether or not they have been exposed to immediately see a knowledgeable doctor and if they are tortured to also begin therapy or counseling. Even the best interactive web site is no replacement for live consultation with a personal physician and a therapist.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

HIV negative woman with positive man - how do I cope?

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