[ribbon]Rapid weight loss, recurring fever or profuse night sweats, depression and unexplainable fatigue might ring a bell to almost every student on campus, especially as cold and flu season creeps up on us. The symptoms would lead to a routine doctor visit for the same dreaded diagnosis you heard last year; get some rest, take some antibiotics and take it easy because you’ve got the flu. But what if instead of the anticipated conclusion and usual dose of antibiotics, your doctor advises you to take an HIV test.
Any individual experiencing the symptoms of HIV could go as long as months without recognizing them as being more than the flu. The early signs are not something someone would be particularly caught off guard or frightened by – if there are any symptoms at all. People can go years without discovering they even have HIV.
“It’s scary that there are so many people that have it and don’t even know,\” said fisheries and wildlife sophomore Stephen Burr. He recently got tested and said he told his friends and family, who were supportive. “They thought it was a good idea and basically what it comes down to is that you just gotta know.”
Since HIV was first recognized on Dec. 1, 1981, the virus has affected millions and millions of people around the world. \”Talking about the history of AIDS and what we knew 25 years ago is like taking a trip down memory lane,” said Patrick Lombardi, volunteer coordinator for the Lansing Area AIDS Network (LAAN). He said he remembers a time when AIDS wasn’t even around and that he had no choice but to face it because almost immediately he began to lose friends who were infected. “It got to the point where I was going to a funeral every week, sometimes twice a week. So many people were just dying,” he said.
Today, 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS around the world, with women and young people being increasingly at risk for HIV infection. Most people have heard about HIV/AIDS, but there are still misconceptions floating around – like that HIV is a gay man\’s illness or that it is really only a problem in African countries.
[mary] According to The Foundation for AIDS Research, the acronym HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV infects human cells and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, a disease in which the body’s immune system breaks down and becomes unable to fight off infections. Known as “opportunistic infections,” these and other illnesses take advantage of a weakened immune system, leaving the human body without enough strength to fight back. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people worldwide, including more than 500,000 Americans. It is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.
People with AIDS who can afford medication can prolong their lives, but there is still no cure, making prevention the key. “Searching for a cure is important but we really need to focus on prevention,” said Dennis Martell, coordinator for MSU’s Health Education Services.
While awareness is being raised, even more questions may spring up as a result. Olin Health Center’s Sex Education employee Erin Williston said the main goal of the education process and program is to make the resources individuals may need readily available. Williston said, “If a student is sure he or she is going to have sex and they are aware of the repercussions of not practicing safe sex, then the best thing a campus organization can offer is a place where the students can go to get what they need to make the safest and smartest decision.”
As part of maintaining a preventative attitude, Olin established the Condom Connection in partnership with the Residence Hall Association. Together these organizations work to distribute at least 60,000 condoms around campus per year to encourage safe sex.
LAAN’s role in the community is to serve anyone who might be concerned about their health. “Whether people are choosing to have safe sex or not is up to them, we are just here to help them after they decide they may have made a bad decision,” Lombardi said. “For a long time it has been thought, especially in my own personal experience, that because I am associated with LAAN, people automatically assume I’m gay. What people need to understand is that AIDS has the potential to affect anyone.” Gay, straight, bi, transgender – the risk is still there.
The Foundation for AIDS Research reports that women are at a greater risk of HIV infection through vaginal sex than men, although the virus can also be transmitted from women to men.
[poppins]HIV is a big deal. Having unprotected sex is a big deal. Surprisingly enough however, in a study done by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR), 58 percent of students surveyed said they use a condom every time they have sex. Breaking the numbers down, out of 40,000-plus students at MSU, this does not necessarily mean more than 20,000 of them are using a condom every time they have sex. But it does paint a pretty clear picture that based on a sample of 2,000 people surveyed, of that 2,000, at least 1,000 reported using a condom every time they had sex. The results are up four points from 2002, and according to Williston, “Over the past four years we have only seen percentages go up.” Williston credits the rise in percentage of condom use among students to the fact that “access is key,\” referring to the recent installment of prevention based programs, such as Olin\’s “Condom Connection.”
HIV testing is not hard to come by. For example, walking into Olin on a regular Thursday afternoon and asking an employee at the front desk who to speak to about HIV testing, you will likely be sent to the third floor for an on-the-spot appointment. The whole appointment includes a short general information session, a counseling session and then the testing itself. The testing is free with the results taking only one week, and results can be anonymous. “We recommend that if an individual has been sleeping with someone or intends to start sleeping with someone – whether it be a significant other or just a partner – that they come get tested together,” Williston said. “It’s the safest way to be safe.”
Olin is not the only place close to campus that offers HIV testing. Planned Parenthood advises sexually active patients to have “safer sex” in order to reduce the risk of exchanging blood, semen, or vaginal fluids with your sex partner. The term “safer sex” is used because the safer the sex is, the lower the risk of infection.
Twenty-five years ago it was important to face the facts and ‘out’ HIV as a deadly virus and possible killer. Now 25 years later, it is important to continue to face the facts, but also strive to prevent and educate people before it continues to take lives at an extremely fast pace. “It’s not that AIDS is a terrible condition to live with, because after all it is manageable,” said Williston. “It’s just that it takes so much out of you – both physically and emotionally.\”
Want to get involved?
-The AIDS Walk: \”One Step Toward a Solution\” will be held in East Lansing’s own Valley Court Park on Sunday, Oct. 1. The Lansing Area Aids Network, along with MSU’s Health Education Services, will work together in an effort to raise both awareness of the virus as well as to provide education and general information surrounding the long term effects that AIDS has on individuals and their families. Health Education Services, based out of Olin Health Center, will have a table set up with an array of information regarding anything from safe sex to how to get tested for HIV to who is affected and how.
-To aid in the battle of AIDS, Gap Stores are launching a new advertising campaign promoting Product Red. The new line of clothes includes shirts with phrases like \”Inspi(red)\” and \”Desi(red).\” The premise of the campaign is change the world with the purchase of a shirt. The proceeds from the shirt will go to Africa to help the fight against the epidemic.

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