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World AIDS Day Special–Seeing the Positive in “HIV”

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She got bullied in school. She went from being popular to having a few friends. But, it didn’t stop Paige Rawl from winning an award from Seventeen magazine and being successful in her college classes at Ball State University. What was her crime that she was bullied so relentlessly in middle school and later, high school? Rawl was born with HIV and with her diagnosis, parents and students were afraid of getting AIDS and becoming HIV positive.

Some parents may not know that you cannot get HIV through casual contact or through these things:

  • Hugs and handshakes
  • drinking glasses
  • sneezes
  • coughs
  • mosquitos or other insect bites
  • towels
  • toilet seats
  • door knobs

With HIV infection rates rapidly increasing among teens and young adults, half the new cases of human immunodeficiency syndrome are affecting people under age 25. The rates for undiagnosed cases is also increasing, with 400,000 adults ages 13 to 24 being infected with HIV. With the advent of HIV testing and resources to help families whose children show signs of HIV symptoms, why are children with this disease still bullied in the United States?

Parents may not know how to talk to their children about AIDS and the dangers that occur with unprotected sex. They may be afraid and embarrassed to talk about the subject. But, they shouldn’t be embarrassed about the possibility of saving their child’s life. With more and more teens having sex, parents should discuss the dangers of unprotected sex with their child. Four out of 10 ninth graders have admitted they have had unprotected sex and seven out of 10 have had intercourse by the time they are seniors.

What is HIV?

Parents may know what this syndrome is, but they may overestimate how well they are educating their child about human immunodeficiency syndrome. Studies have indicated parents’ sons and daughters remember more about AIDS talks when discussions were kept private. One-fourth of students admitted they remembered little when parents had discussions in a group.

What are the symptoms of HIV? Teens may not know they have HIV until they exhibit these signs of HIV.

  • fever (this is common)
  • swollen glands
  • sore throat
  • rash
  • fatigue
  • muscle and joint aches and pain
  • headache

If a parent thinks their student has HIV but do not show any symptoms of the illness, it is best to be tested. A person can have HIV and not show any signs of HIV or being sick until 10 or more years after being sexually active. Though some people may be HIV positive, they may not show signs. However, if these signs are seen, they may be an indication of HIV or what is know as acute retroviral syndrome. It is a primary HIV positive infection and is the body’s natural response to HIV. Some people have what they refer to as the “worst flu ever” two to four weeks after being infected with ARS. If anyone has had these “flu” symptoms, they may be signs of HIV. Not everyone has the same HIV symptoms, so it could be easy to have human immunodeficiency syndrome and not know it. There may be no signs of HIV at all. This is why it is important to get HIV testing if parents suspect their child has this, before it progresses to AIDS.

HIV Testing

New testing is able to detect the human immunodeficiency virus antigens or nucleic acids. This will be able to alert parents and also let older children and teens know if they have HIV quickly. The older testing methods relied on testing antibodies in the blood. However, by testing nucleic acids, doctors can tell if a person has HIV – long before they show HIV symptoms or know they have signs of HIV. It allows teens and parents to know, quickly, if they have been infected. Did you know how HIV is transmitted?:

  • exchange of blood
  • vaginal sex or intercours
  • anal sex
  • dirty drug paraphernalia
  • oral sex

With more than 7 out of 10 teens admitting they have had sex by the time they are a senior in high school, parents and teens need HIV testing. Did you know symptoms of HIV may not show up for ten years, depending on which type of HIV a student has. It is safe for teens to get tested, since 400,000 new cases of HIV involving children 13 to 17 go unreported annually.

There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. Most cases with the virus in the United States are the first type of the virus, but did you know the second type of human immune deficiency syndrome affects people from West Africa and Europe. The first type is more common and affects teens in the United States. This strain of disease is responsible for the large number around the world that are facing worldwide infections.

Why is the newer test welcomed over older methods of HIV testing? Older tests rely on finding antibodies in the blood. Some teens infected with HIV do not produce antibodies until more than six months after becoming infected. Isn’t it nice to know the FDA-approved test can be given to alert a person that the following are or are not human immune deficiency syndrome-free?

  • serum
  • plasma
  • fingerstick testing
  • venous blood specimens

Rare exceptions why someone needs Re-testing

There are two exceptions as to why someone may need re-testing up to six months after the initial testing.

  • A person may have a severely impaired immune system. It may take longer to develop HIV antibodies.
  • Someone may have taken post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP. This is a one-month course of anti-HIV drugs that if taken within 72 hours of exposure to HIV, it may reduce the risk of infection. However, it cannot prevent anyone from getting HIV. The PEP drugs may keep the HIV infection from becoming its fullest until the end of the month. But, this also means a person can be delayed from producing antibodies.

Learning with HIV/AIDS

It isn’t only some students around the United States who have to worry about being bullied. Eight children were denied the opportunity to attend school in the UK. Students and parents discovered HIV students’ medical diagnosis and parents were asked to withdraw their students or other students (without HIV), teachers, and even administrators bullied students with HIV positive symptoms into leaving the school.

Because her parents feared people treating Rawl different, they hid her diagnosis from her until she was in 6th grade. Rawls told a friend and the bullying started. Students started calling her PAIDS and she lost most of her friends.She was treated differently from her peers and started getting headaches and seizures as a result.

For some students with HIV, Rawls story is familiar. The abuse doesn’t stop at the students though. At least one parent in the UK reported the head of one school threatening to tell other parents because they said it was a “concern.” Another parent moved their child to another school after being threatened with disclosure. Many parents just want their children to live normal lifestyles, as possible. Some parents did not tell their children out of concern they were too young to understand what a diagnosis of HIV means at age 4 and younger. But, one 4-year-old student was told by a teacher after the teacher discovered the little girl was HIV positive.

Why HIV is so Harmful?

HIV isn’t the type of syndrome parents or teens want to take lightly. Early prevention is key with this type of disease. However, many parents and teens may not know much about HIV until they receive a HIV positive diagnosis. Many parents may not know HIV destroys the helper “T” cells in the body. Teens with these diseases are more susceptible to:

  • walking pneumonia
  • herpes simplex virus
  • salmonella
  • fungal infections, such as esophagitis
  • thrush
  • lymphomas, such as Epstein-barr virus
  • wasting syndrome
  • complications from encephalitis, causing dementia

The virus slowly destroys a teen’s immune system, producing antibodies that replace the body’s white cells. This means a child or teen with HIV cannot fight off illnesses or infection as well or as quickly as children or teens without HIV symptoms or who aren’t HIV positive. This is why families need to know the signs of HIV. They can better fight HIV symptoms if they know how to prepare with a HIV positive diagnosis.

Common illnesses, such as a cold, can be devastating for a child or teen with HIV because they have a weakened immune system and cannot fight normal germs that only make those without a HIV positive diagnosis ill or possibly even sick at all. However, those same germs can kill a child or teen with the virus. It also turns from HIV into AIDS in the final third stage.

Why is HIV no longer a death sentence that quickly turns to AIDS?

Today, there are better medications to keep the virus from building up antibodies in the blood steam and overwhelming a child or teen’s body. Researchers know more about both HIV and AIDS than they did when the disease first surface and the first cases were reported in 1981. Here is how treatment for HIV has changed:

  • Drugs slow the growth of the disease, keeping it from progressing into AIDS as quickly. This allows children and teens with HIV to remain symptom-free longer and have more time before must confront an AIDS diagnosis.
  • Drugs also make protect mothers with human immunodeficiency from passing the disease to their newborn children.

Doctors have new strategies to fight HIV and keep it from progressing into AIDS as quickly, This allows children and teens to live longer with HIV, without having to worry about devastating symptoms of HIV, How are drug “cocktails” or combinations of drugs helping those who are HIV positive?

  • They keep HIV from producing genetic material called nucleoside.
  • They interfere with HIV’s ability to produce enzymes that are needed to take over certain cells in the body.
  • They interfere with the genetic coding HIV needs to reproduce itself. Even if a person is HIV positive (without this genetic script), it makes it hard for the virus to take over the body.
  • Newer medicines have been introduced for those who have HIV symptoms that are helpful if teens or children have an HIV positive diagnosis.

Those with HIV can live 20 years or more with the virus. In the 1980s people who had HIV saw it progress to AIDS quickly. If children and teens take their medicine consistently, it can help those who are HIV positive avoid opportunistic illnesses. Many children and teens in third world countries and poorer Americans may not have access to AIDS medicines to fight this syndrome. It also means the devastated effects of this disease are slowed, even if it cannot be stopped. There is no cure for AIDS currently. However,there are cases of babies with HIV that have little sign of having HIV symptoms.

Resources available to parents and Schools

Whether parents need resources to take to their children and teens or they need information about HIV, there are a number of online websites families can use as sources. KidsHeath.Org offers resources for parents to help them feel comfortable talking to their teens.

By having anti bullying programs in schools that address AIDS and HIV, schools can teach children that their HIV positive peers won’t give them AIDS. If school administrators want to stop bullying at their school, they have to be an example to students and perhaps, do what one Indian school administrator did. When parents of non-HIV students threatened to pull their children from school, the administrator reminded parents they could do so, but the school would lose its funding to operate. Some parents were not happy, but the threats stopped and parents kept their children in school with HIV positive children.

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