HIV 101 – The Basics of HIV
I was recently interviewed for a local Dallas news station regarding my formative years as a young gay teen, being HIV-positive, my trip to the White House, and the mass shooting in Orlando. Since the interview I’ve had so many positive words of encouragement (especially from my amazing boyfriend) from so many people. However, I was hit with what felt like a brick wall today with the ignorance of some people. Out of the entire ten-minute interview, certain people chose to speak with authority, and a false sense of accuracy, regarding a five-second snippet: the fact that I’m HIV-positive.
I tried so hard not to be upset by what I heard. I tried to say it was ignorance at play. I told myself that they “just don’t know.” Inevitably, I cried. I cried because, even though I’ve been “out” about my status for well over two years now, when someone says the things that were said they still have an effect on me; even when I know they’re wrong. So instead of feeling sad or getting angry at these people, I’m going to do something better. I’m going to educate them.
What I’m writing isn’t anything new. These facts and statistics have been out for public consumption for years now. Unfortunately, the information is rather fragmented over the Internet; something I found out when I was diagnosed. Searching the Internet for resources and information, I learned that it was filled with not only many opinions but also a lot of misinformation.
Welcome to HIV-101. This is a series developed to inform individuals on everything that encompasses the ins and outs of HIV. Information comes from research done by the CDC. Sit down, open your notebooks and pay attention.
Let’s start with the basics. The first question pretty much everyone has is: “How do you catch HIV?”
See, one of the ignorant things I heard said about me was, “So when he’s coughing and sneezing, he’s spreading it around us. That’s not safe.” This is the point where I raise my big red flag and yell “Halt!” According to the CDC, HIV can ONLY be spread through these ways:
- Blood (this can include direct blood-to-blood contact such as two open wounds coming into contact, and/or reuse of dirty needles)
- Semen and pre-seminal fluid
- Rectal fluids (the inside of the anus)
- Vaginal fluids (the inside of the vagina)
- Breast Milk
That’s it. Nothing else. NADA. So no, you’re not going to get it if someone sneezes or coughs on you. You will definitely not get it from drinking out of the same glass, nor by shaking my hand or any of the other numerous ways that people come in contact with each other throughout a day. Seriously. Those items listed above in the bulletpoints are the only ways. I promise, and so does science.
Second, HIV is indiscriminate. What that means is that it doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, white, black, Latino, gay, straight, lesbian, so on and so forth. HIV will infect you regardless of these and numerous other defining factors. So HIV is NOT a gay disease.
The CDC estimates that more than 1.2 MILLION people live with HIV in the United States; of those 1.2 million, nearly 1 in 8 do not know their status due to a lack of testing. Move to a global scale and that number rises to more than 36.9 million total people living with HIV. Chances are, you know someone who lives with HIV.
I say this because on numerous occasions whether at work, or on the streets in the gayborhood, I hear some rather insensitive things said about people with HIV. These people have no regard for the fact, that in all likelihood, the person standing right next to them probably lives with this chronic disease. I can tell you that even as a person who knows the facts about HIV, hearing things that I do still hurt.
Soon we’ll cover prevention and testing for HIV. If you take anything away from this, let it be this; regardless of your status, you are loved, and we are all HIV Equal.
*"What is PrEP" promotional photo pulled from CDC http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/