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|June 19-25, 2008
Back to Letters
HIV stops with you
by Pamela White
Rick met Jenn while out for drinks on Pearl Street. They hit it off right away, went on a couple of dates and ended up at Rick’s place naked on the floor. They kissed, then each picked up a .45 revolver, popped a round in a chamber, let the cylinder spin, aimed it at the other person’s head — and pulled the trigger.
Whether either Rick or Jenn died in this fictional scenario isn’t the point. What matters is that each carelessly but intentionally risked the other person’s life.
That’s what you do every time you have sex without knowing your HIV status.
When you think of HIV/AIDS tests, most of you think you don’t need to get one. How do I know this is true? According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment only 38 percent of Boulder County residents have ever been tested for HIV/AIDS.
Clearly, most of you think HIV testing is something that someone else ought to do — that gay guy down the street or that prostitute you saw walking down Colfax or that drug addict shooting up in the alley.
You’re not at risk, right? Maybe you’re a married woman who has never had sex with anyone besides your husband. Maybe you’re a heterosexual male who uses condoms — most of the time. Maybe you’ve never shown any sign of illness despite past risky behavior.
It’s a normal human reaction to try to rationalize away our fears when it comes to things that frighten us. You won’t get raped because you never walk alone at night. (Most rapes don’t involve strangers jumping out of bushes in the dark, but rather people we know.) You won’t get breast cancer because you don’t smoke, don’t drink, had babies before age 30 and aren’t overweight. (While risk factors have some statistical value, breast cancer can strike anyone, even men.) You won’t get lung cancer from smoking because, apart from one nasty habit, you’re really healthy. (Um… get freaking real!)
If you think you don’t think you need to get tested for HIV/AIDS, you’re just like the thousands of Americans who are HIV positive and don’t know it — yet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are currently between 1,039,000 and 1,185,000 HIV positive people in the United States — and at least 250,000 of them are playing Russian Roulette with others’ lives because they don’t know they’re infected and are at risk of passing the virus on.
Let’s look at those numbers closer to home. In Boulder County, 315 people have been diagnosed with AIDS, and 245 are HIV positive. As many as 140 of your fellow citizens are HIV positive right this very moment but don’t know it because they haven’t been tested.
You’ve heard people say that HIV/AIDS is no longer just a disease that affects gay men, but you haven’t listened. As a result, the Boulder County populations facing the highest risk at this moment are not just men who have sex with men, but also heterosexual men and women who have unsafe sex, and injection drug users and their partners.
Maybe you don’t fit into any of those demographics. But maybe one of your previous partners had a partner who did.
Stick a round in the chamber, spin the cylinder and fire.
But maybe this isn’t about you. Maybe it’s about your spouse, who’s been faithful to you while you’ve been getting some on the side. Maybe it’s about the unborn baby you might infect through blood or breast milk. Maybe it’s about the hottie you met last night who didn’t have the self-respect or courage to ask you to wear a condom.
AIDS is a preventable, stoppable disease. It’s passed from one person to another person in blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. It requires ignorance, indifference and inaction in order to spread.
If all of you knew your HIV status, began to think of those you might infect through your behavior and took the necessary steps to protect others, we could halt the spread of HIV/AIDS overnight. Rather than seeing 40,000 new HIV infections every year — that’s 40,000 people who will have to grapple with a deadly disease for the rest of their lives — we would see an end to this epidemic.
Hazel Miller, Ben Pearlman and I will be stepping onto the stage on the Pearl Street Mall in front of the County Courthouse at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24, to be tested for HIV. Volunteers and staff from the Boulder County AIDS Project (BCAP) and Boulder County Public Health will be on hand to show you how quick, easy and risk-free it is to be tested for HIV these days and to answer your questions.
All of us who are participating in this event hope you’ll choose to be tested yourself on June 28, which is when Boulder County observes National HIV Testing Day. On that day, free HIV testing and counseling will be available at BCAP, located at 2118 14th St.
Even if you’re sure you’re HIV-negative, take responsibility for yourself and get tested. Don’t live in ignorance. Don’t risk your own health. Don’t risk the health and lives of others.
Let HIV stop with you.
For more information, go to www.bcap.org.
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