Information about HIV and AIDS is constantly evolving. It's hard to keep up and it's often overwhelming. Check your current knowledge of HIV with the following test.
FALSE. Sure, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is widely believed to extend life. However, there is no HIV antiviral in the United States that costs $300 a year. A combination regimen of three or four drugs (which is the standard of care) still costs at least $12,000 a year -- typically even more. There are some generic drug combinations available in developing countries for much less, but the Bush administration and most American pharmaceutical companies oppose generic manufacturing of anti-HIV meds and don't want you to have access. In fact, thanks to the lobbying efforts of US drug companies, Congress is considering legislation that would prohibit Americans from purchasing drugs produced outside the United States.
FALSE. It's rare, but it happens. Earlier this year, the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases reported a confirmed case of a Philadelphia woman infected by her female partner. Genetic tests showed that the virus in both women was nearly identical, including mutations conveying anti-HIV drug resistance. By thorough investigation, researchers concluded that transmission of HIV was the likely result of sharing sex toys. No matter what they taught you in kindergarten, never share sex toys!
FALSE. This kind of thinking is, like, so 1996 -- back when the AIDS "cocktail" was new and the mantra seemed to be "Hit Hard, Hit Early." Last spring, the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes released an analysis of twenty separate studies showing that patients who began HAART when their CD-4 cell counts were above 350 had identical CD-4 cell rebounds, as did those who started the drugs with counts between 201 and 350.
TRUE. African-Americans make up about 13% of the US population, yet they comprise over 50% of those newly infected with HIV. According to a six-city study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as three in ten African-American MSM (men who have sex with men) age 23 to 29 are infected with HIV -- around four times the rate of Caucasian MSM that age. The rate of HIV infection among African-American women, ages 20 to 44, is more than 16 times higher than the rates among white women. The CDC reports that higher death rates among African-Americans are the result of challenges in accessing health care, prevention services and treatment.
TRUE. UNAIDS and the World Health Organization reported late last year that the number of women living with HIV equals the number of men. In many African countries, women have outnumbered men for years. Now, the statistics are rising for women of Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean.
TRUE. According to countless reputable studies conducted all over the country and much to the dismay of rabid, abstinence-crazed tyrants everywhere, TEENAGERS ARE HAVING SEX! One in five teens have sex by age 15. The older they get, the more sexually active they become. So why do more than 50% of schools continue to teach abstinence as the only option, denying teenagers information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases? Our government prefers it that way and withholds funding from states that want to offer comprehensive sexual education. Our elected leaders habitually tell us a good education is the key to success in life -- why then do so many insist that our teenagers remain ignorant about sex and its consequences?
TRUE. Most Americans still think HIV exists only in major urban centers with large populations like San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York City. The Kaiser Family Foundation, independent researchers of major health care issues, delivered a report prepared for the November 2002 Southern States Summit on HIV/AIDS and STDs showing that 40% of people living with AIDS and 46% of new AIDS cases are in the South -- despite that region being home to only slightly more than one third of the US population.
FALSE. Nonoxynol-9 is present in most spermicides on the market today. It has been used over the past half-century in vaginal gels, creams, foams, suppositories, sponges and films. It's been used alone or with other contraceptive devices, such as the diaphragm. It kills sperm and is useful if you're trying to prevent pregnancy. In the '80s, some lame, questionable laboratory experiments revealed that N-9 inactivated organisms that cause gonorrhoea, chlamydial infections and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as HIV -- in a test tube. Suddenly, and without appropriate intervention from the Food and Drug Administration, N-9 started showing up in sexual lubricants and lubricated condoms. People were led to believe that N-9 would protect them from disease. Wrong. In the late '90s, a number of studies involving sexually active human beings revealed that N-9 is a big lie. It's so irritating and toxic to the vaginal and rectal linings that it can actually increase your chances of getting infected. Just say no to nonoxynol-9. Avoid condoms and lubricants containing this crap.
TRUE. Most positive inmates got HIV before sentencing, but many others are exposed in jail, through consensual sex, rape, IV-drug use and tattooing. Yeah, all of those things happen behind bars -- not just on an episode of HBO's prison saga Oz. Prisoners in several countries around the world have free access to condoms, but in the US only five county jail systems and two state systems, Vermont and Mississippi (how did that happen?!?) offer them. Federal prison administrators officially object to condom distribution, fearing inmates will use them as balloons to smuggle drugs. The federal fix for all this? Congress passed legislation making sex among inmates illegal in all US jails and prisons. Uh-huh, that should fix everything.
FALSE. According to surveys recently conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), many Americans wrongly believe that a preventive vaccine for HIV/AIDS has already been developed. Preliminary findings from a national survey of 3,500 people found nearly half of African-Americans surveyed (48%) and more than a quarter of Hispanics (28%) believe that an HIV vaccine already exists and is being kept a secret. Twenty percent of adults in the general population share that belief. A secret HIV vaccine? Where are Scully and Mulder when you need them?
David Salyer is an HIV-positive journalist and AIDS educator living in Atlanta, Georgia. He leads safer sex presentations for men and has facilitated workshops for people infected or affected by HIV since 1994. Reach him by e-mail at cubscout@mindspring. com.