Actor Zachary Quinto of Star Trek fame was recently quoted as saying “I think there’s a tremendous sense of complacency in the LGBT community. AIDS has lost the edge of horror it possessed when it swept through the world in the 80’s. Today’s generation sees it more as something to live with and something to be much less fearful of. And that comes with a sense of, dare I say, laziness”.
As expected this comment drew the ire of the LGBT community, in one sweeping statement, Quinto labeled the LGBT community lazy, complacent and dare I say irresponsible. The issue with the statement isn’t that it’s wrong, it’s not that it generalizes a whole subset of the population, the media makes outrageous remarks about minority groups almost every day. In this case the problem is that the statement doesn’t go far enough. It’s not just the LGBT community that is lazy. It’s everyone. There is no doubt that the LGBT community is a community that has a higher degree of risk associated with AIDS but it is not the only one.
Educational programs are far less well funded than they were 10 years ago. While improvements in preventative medication such as PrEP and antivirals have increased life expectancy and quality of life for those already affected, it has also had a more devious effect. Less people now look at AIDS as a life threatening infectious disease and more of a lifestyle. The 90’s did a lot of things wrong. Things like hyper-color t-shirts, Furbies and the Spice Girls have all rightly been assigned to the distant past. However, what the 90’s did do well was HIV & STD education. From the 90’s until today, condom usage has decreased across the board, from teenagers to your grandma, we are all less vigilant against STDs. So, with that in mind let’s talk about HIV/AIDS frankly for a second. Let’s admit that it can be managed and controlled, and that with the correct and proper support it is not life threatening, and those that suffer from AIDS are not deserving of the stigma thrust upon them. Let’s also admit that it is a chronic disease, there is no vaccine or cure and people who have contracted HIV not only suffer its debilitating effects but also suffer from social stigma. For these reasons alone we should be scared of HIV, HIV should inspire fear and here are 4 reasons why.
1. There is NO CURE
There is currently no cure or vaccine for those who have contracted HIV. While a number of promising trials are underway and significant research has been conducted, no solution is likely to be discovered in the short-term. This is because HIV is a retrovirus, and that means that it is far more likely to acquire mutations allowing it to evolve quickly. This means that if you contract HIV/AIDS you most likely, will have it for the rest of your life.
2. It won’t kill you – something worse will
HIV/AIDS will not kill you. HIV causes AIDS which affects the immune system, making it far more likely that you will contract opportunistic infections. These infections include diseases like Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, Hepatitis, Diabetes, Dementia and varying forms of cancer, which means not only do you get to deal with the effects of HIV/AIDS but you’ll also have to deal with the symptoms of the plethora of infections after you contract HIV/AIDS. It’s important to note that the standard life expectancy for someone suffering from HIV/AIDS is 9 to 11 years without treatment. However, with current retroviral medication the standard life expectancy has grown.
3. You can control it….but it controls you
Perhaps just as important as the physical aspects of HIV/AIDS is the stigma associated with contracting HIV/AIDS and the associated mental health issues. People with HIV/AIDS are far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. HIV/AIDS can profoundly influence the ability to begin or continue romantic relationships and can enhance feelings of isolation. The psychological effects can often be just as debilitating as the physical.
4. You won’t see it coming until it’s too late
It is estimated that 50% of sexually active college students don’t use condoms and the less said about the safe sex practices of unattached baby boomers the better. While transmission rates for oral sex is low enough to be considered negligible the risk of infection for unsafe vaginal penetration is significantly higher and is higher again for anal penetration. If you’re curious about the actual transmission rates you can find the data here.
Sometimes fear is good. We should be anxious, frightened and angry at the thought of contracting HIV – not complacent and never ignorant. Fear never gives rise to complacency, and education never gives rise to ignorance.
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