HIV still prominent in gay community

By J_Howard

Red is a color that symbolizes many things. In the shape of a heart, it symbolizes love. In the shape of a ribbon, it is a symbol of AIDS awareness and a reminder to be tested often for the human immunodeficiency virus that causes the disease.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly one in five sexually active gay or bisexual men who participated have HIV, and 44 percent of those infected do not know it. The study focused on a sample of 8,153 men in the U.S. who have sex with men. They were from 21 cities and represented all ages and races.

The study was done in 2008 but was published in late September 2010 and found that 19 percent of the men tested were infected. Nearly half of them were unaware of their status, meaning they were likely to spread the virus to others.

“The study really reminds us HIV is a serious health threat among gay and bisexual men in America’s major cities,” said Nikki Kay, spokeswoman for CDC.

The highest percentages of those un aware in the study found was 63 percent young makes under 30, and 59 percent of these males were African-American.

“The percentage of younger men who have HIV but [are unaware of it] was alarming,” Kay said.

Though there are other risk groups for the virus, the study said the only increasing risk group is gay and bisexual males. Kay said this may be due to a generation gap and not enough public education on the disease.

“We know many young gay and bisexual men may underestimate their personal risk of infection,” Kay said. “We’re kind of talking about a new generation of men who have sex with men. They may not have personally experienced the early days of the epidemic.”

Kay said the most important finding was the unawareness factor and HIV’s critical testing. It is recommended that those who are at increased risk or have unprotected sex with other males or use drugs during sex get tested for the virus yearly or more often if possible.

“HIV is the condition that can cause AIDS if left untreated,” said Maude Carroll, communications coordinator for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “Not everyone living with HIV has AIDS; that’s a common misconception.”

According to the CDC, people may feel healthy if the HIV infection is present. By getting tested, one who is infected can start treatment as early as possible.

Treatment slows down the immune system’s destruction that leads to AIDS, where the immune system becomes weakened to the point that simple diseases can have fatal consequences.

“There is a lot of stigma [behind getting] an HIV test,” Carroll said. “I think that is why a lot of people are living with HIV and don’t know it.”

Carroll said the AIDS Foundation of Chicago is celebrating its 25th anniversary, connecting people to all types of resources needed when dealing with HIV or AIDS and raising money to support the cause.

“[There are] lots of challenges people face when they are living with HIV,” Carroll said. “We assign a case manager and get people connected to resources.”

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago sponsors various fundraising events, such as the AIDS Run & Walk, which was held on Oct 2.

“There is definitely a lot of [need to create] awareness and educate people about HIV and the basics of the disease but also to test early and often,” Carroll said.

Columbia has resources of its own for students. K. Bradford, coordinator for the LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community, said the office is open for support and guidance.

“Students come in and meet with us about coming out, questioning their sexuality, facing  whatever issues they have related to being gay or transgender,” Bradford said. “But also we do have a number of students who come in just to talk about having HIV themselves or having a roommate who just found out they’re positive.”

Bradford said HIV is something that should be openly talked about on a campus that has acknowledged that many of its students are sexually active.

“I think it is a big issue in terms of the campus wanting to act actively engaged around awareness and safe sex practices and conversation.” Bradford said. “So it can be apart of a conversation when you start to date someone or become active with someone.”

Columbia offers students free HIV and STD testing on the first Wednesday of each month. The next test will be on Nov.3 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.