I wasn’t expecting this post. I mean, I knew I would be writing about HIV as I was covering a testing event in Hialeah, Florida on August 16th. But I had no idea what attending that event would personally mean to me. Though I consider myself rather liberal, I am a Latina woman from a conservative values family. HIV and AIDS are commonly confused, and both happen to “other” people – not nice girls from nice families. I had no idea how much bias I carried of this disease and my eyes were opened. Please take the time to read this post. It is important.
I knew my chances of being HIV positive were limited. I was tested for the virus during my two pregnancies, the last one in 2007. I am also a married woman in a monogamous relationship, and I don’t engage in the behaviors that would put me at risk of having the virus. I didn’t HAVE to get tested as part of my assignment; though when I learned the HIV test was free and took twenty minutes I thought: “why not?” The test is done by collecting a blood sample from a little needle much like a diabetes blood sugar test. I figured, if I was at the event to promote HIV testing, the least I could do was get tested myself. I put my name on a rather short list.
As I waited, an unexpected fear began to creep in. Here I was, thinking there is no way I could test positive, but what if I did? What if my husband had been unfaithful, what if some of my wilder youth caught up to me? What if in twenty minutes I find out I am HIV positive?
According to the CDC….
More than 1.2 million people in the US are living with HIV
Approximately 45,000 Americans become infected every year
ABOUT 1 IN 8 PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV DON’T KNOW THEY HAVE IT.
And these people are not only putting others at risk, they are losing time in taking medication which can improve their health and prolong their life.
Though a positive result would seem tragic, I know my husband and I would most likely be okay and figure it out. There is medication that helps you lead a full, long, life; there is also medication that can prevent infection (PrEP). An HIV positive diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it once was. My fear wasn’t imminent death, it was how would I live in my larger society, and specifically the conservative Latino community I am part of.
Stigma is shame and disgrace that result from prejudice associated with something regarded as socially unacceptable. If I were HIV positive, I would be stigmatized by my community. Heck, I could sense my own bias now!
I began to feel more and more uncomfortable, and it wasn’t because of the Miami summer heat. I was sweating fear. For a moment I considered backing out of the test.
My life could change dramatically with a positive result. But I love my life just the way it is; I don’t want it to change. Ignorance is bliss. If I don’t know, then I can put this HIV thing somewhere in the back of my mind as I didn’t know anyone living with this condition. I could just write an informative post, collect my payment, and be on my merry way.
AND THAT IS WHY I HAD TO GO THROUGH WITH IT. IGNORANCE KILLS.
Not getting tested can be dangerous for you and for everyone you love. But I sure can understand the reluctance to sign up and get onto the testing bus. If as someone with low risk I felt this way, I can imagine someone with a higher risk deciding not to get tested because of the stigma associated with HIV.
My turn came and I got into the testing bus. The nurse was extraordinary. I told her what was going through my head, and she told me what would happen if the HIV test came back positive. She never said “don’t worry, you probably don’t have it.” She couldn’t say that. But she was informative, helpful and most of all caring.
Once blood is drawn you need to wait fifteen minutes for the results.
While waiting, I asked about her experience as part of the team that works in this van. She mentioned how common my fear is, and how it is difficult to talk to someone who tested positive. She said the bus goes all around town, and even schools since teenagers as young as 13 can take the test without parental consent. Here’s a stunning fact: 22% of new HIV diagnoses in 2014 were among youth aged 13-24.
To my Hispanic/Latino peeps, you need to know this. In 2013, we account for about 23% of new diagnoses of HIV infection even if we represent only 17% of the population. Do the math: we are disproportionally infected. Though most of the new diagnoses among Hispanics occur in men, LATINAS PLEASE READ THIS:
86% OF HIV DIAGNOSIS IN HISPANIC/LATINA WOMEN WERE ATTRIBUTED TO HETEROSEXUAL CONTACT
My Latina friends, please please understand. This is not a “gay disease”, this is not something that happens to “different people.” We are being infected, most of the time, through heterosexual contact. You got that? This is important. Taboo at some dinner tables, but important.
The HIV test shows one control line. And if it detects the HIV antibodies in your blood then a second line will appear. If anyone has taken a pregnancy test, it’s that second line that appears and changes your life.
I waited fifteen minutes. Fifteen long minutes.
And fortunately for me, the second line never showed up.
The ONLY WAY to know if you are HIV positive is by testing yet so many people avoid testing because of stigma. I almost fell victim to it, but I didn’t and you don’t have to either.
Get the facts, but most of all get tested. For more information and to find a testing site near you visit www.CDC.gov/DoingIt
Please. Get tested.
HIV is not spread by hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets, sharing dishes, or closed-mouth social kissing with someone who is HIV positive.
You can’t get HIV from consuming food handled by an HIV infected person. Even if the food contains a small amount of HIV-infected body fluids, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid will destroy the virus.
HIV is not spread by mosquitoes, ticks or other insects.
This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.