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Aug 31, 2000

My wife and I don't know what to do with information we think we have discovered about my brother. He has been taking bactrim and viracept(most recently). He has been very secretive about his having been sick for the past two years. He says that he has some type of infection and polyps in his colon. My wife and I researched the medication and found that they are used to treat HIV. No one else in my family has a clue, and we don't know how to approach him or my parents. We think he could be putting others in danger by not letting family and friends know. For example, he had some rectal bleeding, and if we did not suspect anything, this disease could be transmitted to another family member. How do we confront him and yet let him know that we will always be here to support him?

Response from Mr. Kull

This sounds like a confusing and complicated situation for you. As long as your approach to your brother clearly stresses your concern and support for HIM, your chances of having a favorable outcome increase. Whether or not you say something to him and how you actually address this situation needs to be a personal decision. You know your relationship with your brother much better than I do.

That being said, here's my advice:

How did you find out he was taking these medications? You run the risk of alienating him if he feels that his privacy was violated. While Bactrim and Viracept are used to treat people with HIV disease, you do not know that your brother has HIV until he tells you. There might be another way of letting him know that he could talk with you about anything without telling him about the meds. I don't suggest that you lie. Just use your knowledge judiciously.

Your brother has a right to his privacy. There are a host of misconceptions and prejudices about individuals with HIV. People with HIV are still stigmatized in the world, which reinforces a person's fear to disclose his/her status to others. It often takes time for a person to come clean about their status, especially to their families, with good reason. Give him space and time.

It is unlikely that your brother, if he is HIV positive, is putting others in his family at risk. There have been several studies of rates of transmission from an HIV positive person to members of his/her family through casual contact. None of these studies found that family members became infected through casual contact.

I would suggest that confronting your brother would be a problematic tactic. Confrontation tends to increase a person's defenses. He also might feel defensive if you suggest that he is putting family members at risk (which is not the real issue in my opinion). Maybe this is about your relationship and how you feel left out of something serious in your brother's life.

Try letting him know your concern about his condition and that you "will always be here to support him." Whether or not he tells you that he is positive at that point is up to him. But at least he will know how much you care. What a difference that will make for him.

Good luck.


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