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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

HIV, AIDS awareness raised on NE Campus

By Rosa Martinez-Rodriguez/reporter

Every 15 seconds a person age 15-24 becomes infected with HIV. Often, people do not know they have the disease because they don’t have any symptoms, a panel of speakers from the Samaritan House told NE Campus students last week.

Ted Lovato, vice president and chief operations officer of the Samaritan House, presented Living with HIV/AIDS Thursday.

“How can you tell if someone is infected with HIV?” Lovato asked. “You can’t tell. Anyone can be infected.”

Currently, 33.2 million people are infected with HIV or AIDS around the world, Lovato said. Every minute, five people get infected with HIV, and 15 million young children are orphans because parents die from AIDS.

More than a million Americans have the disease. AIDS is the leading cause of death for women age 25-34, and the number of women living with HIV has tripled in the last decade. Washington, D.C., has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS, Lovato said.

Lovato said people cannot contract HIV through air, casual living, working, hugging, sneezing, coughing or a mosquito bite. However, people can acquire the disease through fluids like breast milk, oral, vaginal or anal sex and/or sharing contaminated needles.

“The sure way to avoid AIDS is to not have sex,” he said.

Abstinence is hard to do, Lovato said. But people can take precautions, such as not sharing needles, having protected sex, not having multiple partners and not trusting people who say they don’t have the disease.

Lovato said people who have had multiple partners or who had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1995 should think about getting tested. 

People infected with HIV can live longer if they get control of the disease by taking their medications and changing their lifestyles. However, if the disease is not treated, it can produce a billion viral loads per day, causing the body to become weaker and more prone to other diseases, Lovato said.

“The key is to increase the T-cells,” he said.

A person can live a healthy life with the medications. More than 500 T-cells is considered to be undetected AIDS by doctors, yet it does not mean the person does not have the disease, Lovato said.

Danny, a patient at Samaritan House, said his T-cells were 250 when he was not taking the medications. Now his T-cells are 978.

“I take 23 pills every day to stay alive,” he said. “I could not have done it without Samaritan House. They give you suggestions and tell you what you need to do.”

Living with HIV is not what it used to be years ago, said Janine Glassman, lead social work case manager.

HIV-positive people need to take charge of their disease by learning more about it, she said.

“Knowledge is what can stop people from being afraid,” Danny said.

Glassman said she highly recommends consulting with an HIV professional who will help them maintain high T-cells and a low viral load through the right medication.

Being compliant with the medication is also important because if people are on and off the medications for a period of time they become resistant.

Also, if people are on and off the medication, they will have more side effects because they have to start all over again, Glassman said. The side effects of the medications are nausea, forgetfulness and fatigue.

Glassman said exercise benefits people who are HIV-positive because it relieves stress, stimulates appetite and stores energy in the muscle.

Many times when infected people disclose their disease to their family or friends, they are labeled with a stigma and end up alone with nowhere to go. Fortunately, Glassman said, organizations are available to help.

The Samaritan House provides housing for HIV-infected people who are homeless. Trey Nichols, support services manager, said their clients can become attached to counselors because they do not receive the support from their own families.

Therefore, counselors need to have boundaries set up to prevent being too emotionally invested in clients. Counselors should know their weaknesses and strengths, Nichols said.

In the Samaritan House, relationships are often formed but for the wrong reasons, said counselor Terry Dybala.

“Ninety-five percent of the drug and alcohol problems in the Samaritan House are homeless and HIV-positive … 80 percent have a mental illness,” she said.

People who have a drug or alcohol problem are at a higher risk of getting HIV or a sexually transmitted disease because their guard is down, Dybala said.

In addition, people with mental health problems like depression are also at a higher risk of getting a disease because they think their relationship is based on love when, in reality, the other person is only interested in sex, Dybala said.

People think it’s OK for a couple who are HIV- positive to have unprotected sex. Dybala said that is not true. If a couple is HIV-positive, they should still have protected sex because each individual has a different type of virus.

The symptoms of STDs and HIV are undetectable for a long period of time. Yet, if someone has an unusual discharge of fluid from the genital area, pain or irritation during urination or intercourse, sores, blisters, ulcers, warts or rashes anywhere in the genital area and persistent recurring diarrhea, these are symptoms of an STD, then the person should consult with a doctor as soon as possible, said housing specialist Sue Mahoney.

The symptoms of HIV include chronic fever, diarrhea and pneumonia, Lovato said.

“In Tarrant County, 26 percent of women in the age of 14-19 have a common STD … 18 percent of young women have HPV,” Mahoney said.

If an STD goes untreated and the female is pregnant, the disease can pass to the unborn child, cause a disability to the unborn child and, in some cases, even cause death, Mahoney said.

More information about HIV/AIDS or STDs is available through the AIDS Outreach Center, Catholic Charities and Diocese of Fort Worth, Health Learning Project, Volunteers of America or the Villages at Samaritan House.

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