Hey There My Lovlies!!!!
So, for those of you who don't know, my bread-earning position is in the field of Public Health. I specifically work with infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB) (my disease du guerre) and HIV as an epidemiologist.
Its interesting that people are not aware of the fact that TB is still a disease of public health significance in America and indeed, the rest of the world, but it is understandable. For years, TB flew under the radar as an illness that few people got... or rather few people in the United States of America got. However, with the appearance of HIV and the shrinking of the globe due to increased immigrantion and travel, TB is making a comeback.
Today, Tuesday March 10 is National Women/Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It is a part of the celebration of Womens History Month (yes, folks, March is Women's History Month!), designed to increase awarness, knowledge and the like about HIV/AIDS, particularly in regards to women.
HIV/AIDS infection continues to disproportionately affect women, particularly heterosexual, minority women. As such, this day holds extreme importance to me personally... since I am heterosexual, minority and female. I'm not going to give a rundown of statistics pertaining to this when you can visit The Red Pump Project and read them for yourself (Aside: Thanks to Luvvie and Karyn for putting this together... you all are phenoms of woman-dom!!)
What I am going to do is give you a brief perspective on HIV/AIDS given my work in the field of Tuberculosis Control. Hang on to your socks kids, because this might get link-happy!!
For many years, TB was on a steady decline in the USA.
With the advent of new and better antibiotics, TB was thought to be on the path of diseases like Polio and Smallpox-- the path to ELIMINATED DISEASE LAND. However, in the mid 1980's a strange spike in TB cases in the US was observed... and that spike became a continued elevation that peaked in the early 1990's. What triggered this resurgence of TB cases was the EMRGENCE of HIV.
Many people know that HIV stands for Human Immunodificiency Virus, but few know what that REALLY means. HIV SPECIFCICALLY infects and destroys CD4 white cells... the blood cells in the body that are your main defense against infectious agents. As HIV multiplies and reinfects those cells, a person's immune system becomess esentially non-existent and they are susceptible to agents that normally would not make them sick. These are called Opportunistic Infections.
Tuberculosis is an interesting animal in this sequence. The fact is that BILLIONS of people the world over are already infected with the TB bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This is called Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI). However, they are not sick because their bodies are able to mount a defense and wall off the bacteria. When a person becomes infected with HIV, those defenses disappear, and the person rapidly proceeds from LTBI to having active TB disease. TB is DEADLY when not diagnosed and treated. The problem for clinicians when treating HIV infected folk is that since their immune systems are not functioning properly, TB can be ravaging their body, and they will have NO SYMPTOMS.
Both the CDC and the WHO stress the importance of controlling TB ot reduce HIV/AIDS deaths. In fact, since 1990 TB has been the single most contributing factor to HIV/ AIDS deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.
This alone is staggering, but consider that after years of decline, HIV infection rates in the US have begun to slowly rise again, ESPECIALLY among minority women. This is TERRIFYING. People have become complacent. They think that because they see people people who are living longer, healthier lives with HIV infection that it is no longer a problem. That it is in fact cured. While HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence, living with it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. People who are on HIV Antiretroviral Therapy (called HAART- Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy), must take an extensive cocktail of drugs, watch their diet and health CLOSELY and will have to do so for the rest of their lives.
The work of HIV prevention is far from over. The struggle continues to save lives.
So today, take a moment to educate someone about HIV prevention. Take a moment to remember those who are affected by HIV/AIDS in your community, in your city, and the rest of the World. Discuss risky behaviors and practice Safer Sex. And let your inner fashionista/activist get her Red Pump Rockin' On!
But don't forget... once this day passes, the problem hasn't gone away. HIV is still a huge public health concern, and the better people are educated about it, the closer we are to sending HIV and TB to ELIMINATED DISEASE LAND.
Oh and if you are in Philly and don't know your status, Health Center #1 at 500 S. Broad Street (Broad and Lombard) has FREE RAPID TESTING. Come on down and Get in the KNOW. I can't promise that I will test you, but our staff is kind, professional and it is completely confidential.