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"AIDS's Surprising New Target"
      #101512 - 07/15/04 07:54 PM

Georgianna Perez begins every day as many mothers do, rousing her son and getting him off to school before setting out on her four-mile walk at the local park. It may seem ambitious, though not so remarkable, that she's up at 5:30am, sipping coffee and preparing for her daily jaunt. But it is, in fact, something of a milestone for Georgianna, who not so long ago saw little of life beyond the perimeter of her bedroom, as she began her battle with HIV.

By most accounts a typical housewife and mother of two, Georgianna is also the new face of AIDS. Once associated with such risky behaviors as sexual promiscuity, intravenous drug use and prostitution, HIV/AIDS, as the world understood it, was something traditional families didn't have to worry about. But as the epidemic spreads, monogamous housewives, whose husbands have brought HIV into the home (often through extramarital affairs), have become a vulnerable target.

The disease that struck so insidiously over two decades ago, cutting short the lives of a handful of homosexual men, bears little resemblance to the AIDS we know today. HIV now infects 40 million people worldwide, half of whom are women. In the U.S., HIV/AIDS is now the third leading cause of death among women aged 25 to 44.

Because of these rising numbers, this month's International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, will feature an extended program focused on educating women about prevention and treatment.

In fact, HIV/AIDS treatment is one of the most rapidly evolving fields in medicine. Though still a fatal disease, AIDS no longer imposes an immediate death sentence on those afflicted. Thanks to potent new drugs with fewer side effects, people with AIDS are living longer, more productive lives.

While the face of this disease may be changing, perceptions are slow to evolve. This leaves women who have never engaged in so-called risky behavior to tackle not only their illness but also painful stereotypes. As vocal members of online support groups, Georgianna and women like her share stories of what life with this disease is really like:

"I have been happily married for six years plus, and yes, I am HIV-positive. Infected people have many faces. For example, I am a white female who never took drugs or considered prostitution. I am educated, with a college degree, and I've only slept with my husband. Think of me as Betty Crocker with red hair! As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover." --cupcake220

"I have a loved one who is dying from HIV, and I have to watch it every day. It's very hard. If you educate yourself about HIV, AIDS and all STDs, you'll be able to protect yourself. You will also be less judgmental of those who do have HIV. We might as well face it: This is a cruel society we live in. Those who are sick hide it because they know how harshly they will be judged." --horselady392001

"My good friends remind me that I am wonderful, loving and pretty, but sometimes the illness doesn't let me feel this way." --wildchildca

"I am 25 and have been HIV-positive for five years. Never in my life would I have thought I could get HIV. I was married and three months pregnant when I found out. Wow, what a shock. I am lucky to have a very supportive husband who's tested negative and is still negative to this day." -momwholuvsher4kds

"HIV is a very serious illness. It is so important to take special care of yourself by seeing the doctor, taking medications, getting rest and eating right. Live your life to the fullest, maintain your health and always put your wellness first." --heygirl13200

"I'm an HIV-negative female and have been married for 13 months to a man who has been HIV-positive for eight years. We have an amazing relationship, including a very satisfying sex life. We always use condoms and are very careful about the transfer of bodily fluids. Personally, I feel the emotional aspect [of dealing with the illness] is 10 times harder than the physical limitations of such a relationship. The most important thing is to communicate honestly and openly, to tell him exactly how you feel and to encourage him to do the same with you. As with any relationship, there will be rough spots, but nothing that a bit of talking can't work out." --katenpc

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