With an estimated 37.7 million people affected by HIV globally, World AIDS Day is a global health initiative aimed at ending the stigma surrounding and raising awareness.
Observed annually on December 1 since 1988, World AIDS Day encourages people to show support for people living with HIV, to raise awareness of the disease, to unite in the fight against it and to remember those who died of a related illness.
In the United States, approximately 1.2 million people are living with HIV, and Central Florida is one of the worst-affected regions in the country. According to a 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Orlando ranks third behind Miami and Atlanta for new HIV diagnoses with a rate of 25.1 per 100,000.
The prevalence of illnesses related to HIV and AIDS is part of the reason why J. Richelle Joe, associate professor of counselor training at the College of Community Innovation and Education, is passionate about advocacy and advocacy. She also leads the HIV Education, Outreach and Research Team (HEART), a collaboration of faculty and students at UCF dedicated to addressing the effects of the HIV / AIDS epidemic. at local and national levels through awareness education and research.
“I have family members who have been affected by HIV and who have lost family members to AIDS-related illnesses,” says Joe. “When I worked as a counselor, I saw the impact it can have on individuals. I remember working as a school counselor, and one of our sixth graders lost her older brother to AIDS-related illnesses. I saw how it affected their family and it affected their ability to engage in school. I have also worked with young people who have contracted the virus. I think these two personal and professional experiences made me passionate about this subject.
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV is a virus that is spread through intimate contact. To get HIV, a person would have to come in direct contact with blood, semen, breast milk, vaginal fluids, pre-semen and rectal fluids.
The way HIV works specifically is that it attacks our body’s immune system, especially CD4 cells, which are helper cells that keep the immune system working. If HIV is left untreated, our immune system is weakened and we can become susceptible to any disease. The flu can be fatal for a person living with HIV. If someone has the virus and is left untreated, their CD4 cell count may drop below 200 cells per milliliter of blood, and they will be diagnosed with AIDS. HIV is the virus, and AIDS is a syndrome – a group of symptoms or conditions – which means it is an indication that a person’s immune system is significantly compromised.
What are the most common misconceptions about HIV / AIDS?
I think a misconception is that it’s not a problem and it’s not something we need to worry about anymore. This is still the case, especially in the southern United States, for communities of color, and especially for gender and sexual minorities. Another is related to transmission and the ways in which HIV can and cannot be transmitted. There are misconceptions about a person’s morality – the perception that people living with HIV are unclean or are somehow sexually libertine. This is simply not true. There are a number of factors that make people vulnerable to HIV, and the medical community discusses the social determinants of health. HIV can affect anyone.
How can you prevent HIV?
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection, and we know that condoms, dental dams, and any type of barrier are really helpful in preventing sexually transmitted infections. Another important and useful method of preventing HIV is medication, such as PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is a medicine that a person can take once a day that will help them avoid getting HIV. Research has shown that it is very effective in preventing HIV in people who regularly use this medicine as prescribed.
Who should get tested for HIV and when?
Anyone who is sexually active is recommended to be tested for HIV. There is advice from the CDC on frequency for populations where HIV is most common. They recommend every three months for people in high-risk groups, but anyone who engages in sexual activity – especially if they don’t use any preventive measures – should get tested at least once a year.
There’s a blood test that’s a simple finger prick, and you can get the results in under 20 minutes. Sometimes the turnaround time is very short, depending on the type of test. There is an oral test where the gums are slipped in, and the results can be received in 20-30 minutes. There are also home tests that use a gumball, called the OraQuick test.
How can a person know if they are HIV positive? Are there any symptoms?
With HIV, someone can live with the virus and not know it for a while. Initially, there are reports of some cold-like symptoms that someone might have right after their first exposure. These can even go unnoticed by an individual, so getting tested and knowing their status is important as there aren’t many signs.
How is HIV / AIDS treated?
When the HIV virus enters the body, it searches for and takes hold of these cells before reproducing. Medicines that are on the market help prevent the HIV virus from reproducing and restore the immune system to its previous state. The drugs help the number of CD4 cells to increase and the number of HIV viruses to decrease. If people don’t get treatment, it may be the other way around, which means their body can’t protect them from any kind of disease. The goal of treatment is for the person to reach the point where their HIV viral load is undetectable. The wonderful thing is that when it is undetectable, people will not pass HIV to other people through sexual contact, even if there is no other method of prevention used.
Where can I get tested for HIV? What resources are available for those who test positive?
The good thing is that HIV testing is free and readily available in many places. UCF regularly offers free testing through the Wellness and Health Promotion Services. Off campus, there are tests by the Department of Health, and there are tests offered by many organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, Hope & Help, and Miracle of Love. Many of them have mobile units. There is a website called Talk, Test, Treat Central Florida, which has information on where people can get tested, where people can get information about PrEP, and where they can get HIV treatment here. in central Florida.
What would you say to someone who has recently been diagnosed with HIV? What advice would you give to someone who has just found out that a loved one has HIV or AIDS?
To anyone who has recently been diagnosed with HIV, don’t panic. HIV is a chronic disease that can be managed with medication. I would encourage this person to seek treatment as soon as possible as well as psychosocial support that will help you live a long, full and healthy life.
Anyone who has found out that a loved one is living with HIV ask them how you can support them. Be present and compassionate. This is what they will need from you right now.