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Help is just a phone call away
      06/02/06 11:16 AM

AIDS group warns of increased infections due to teenage sex
By THOMAS MICHALSKI

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Photo by THOMAS MICHALSKI
April Wardlow, executive director of AIDS Partnership, said many people don’t even know they have HIV/AIDS.
PINELLAS COUNTY – Many high school students, both male and female, have become more promiscuous in the last decade while exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases in record proportions.

That was the word from Pinellas Park-based AIDS Partnership, a nonprofit organization that teaches students about the dangers of unprotected sex.

Moreover, many teenagers believe that certain practices are not considered sexual and do it unprotected.

“Nearly 10,000 Tampa Bay area residents have been exposed to HIV/AIDS,” said April Wardlow, executive director. “Many didn’t even know that they were infected.”

Worldwide, 20 million have died and by 2020 more than 100 million will succumb.

Wardlow urged all sexually active teenagers to be tested immediately and each year.

“Young people do not realize that they can die from unprotected sex,” Wardlow said.

It’s not AIDS that kills people. It’s the AIDS infection that destroys immunity to other diseases.

Thus, an AIDS victim can die from cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

“There are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS,” Wardlow said.

Many people believe that it’s a disease prevalent only among homosexuals. Heterosexual encounters, in fact, account for a large majority of infections.

HIV/AIDS also is increasing among senior citizens. A widow often will have unprotected sex after a husband of many years dies and not realize the consequences.

“Absolutely, no one is immune to the disease,” Wardlow said.

AIDS, which means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is caused by sexual encounters, injecting drugs or through body fluids such as semen, saliva or blood.

Infected mothers who breast feed can transmit the HIV/AIDS to their babies.

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, can take years to rear its ugly head.

“Think of it as an army that takes over blood cells,” Wardlow said. “It destroys the body’s ability to fight disease.”

There are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. Some people believe that it began centuries ago. Others believe that foreign governments infected

people to reduce populations. However it began, HIV/AIDS officially was identified and named in the 1970s.

People can become infected and not realize it until 10 years later.

A third of the victims don’t know they are infected until it’s too late. Others are unaware of sexually transmitted disease such as herpes, hepatitis or gonorrhea.

The problem doesn’t stop with the infection.

“Two infected people can cause more damage if they have different HIV types,” Wardlow said. “Their respective medications can be rendered useless.”

Wardlow herself is not an HIV/AIDS victim, but her deceased brother was and she is taking up his battle.

“AIDS Partnership was founded in 1994 by a mother whose son died from an AIDS-related disease,” Wardlow said.

The organization helps victims and educates the general public thorough the “Mission Against Transmission” and other programs.

“We want to get into more schools to teach what HIV/AIDS is all about,” Wardlow said.

Persons interested in volunteering or who need help themselves may call 541-6638. The line is open day and night and is mechanically answered after office hours.

People can visit the partnership at 6085 Park Blvd., behind the Good Samaritan Community Center.

“We will always be there for whatever reason,” Wardlow said. “Help is just a phone call away.”

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