16 Sep Running for a Cause
By Claire Nicolas
For the past few months, I have been serving as the 5K Coordinator for the AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run (AWA5K). In case you didn’t know, Georgia ranks #2 in new infections among all the states, second only to Washington DC. The host of the AWA5K is a non-profit called AID Atlanta, and every day the staff tests an average of two new positives. It’s difficult for me to understand how HIV continues to be an issue in our state, especially since the medications have greatly evolved and people with HIV are living longer than ever.
I was first approached by the AIDS Walk team back in February. Having previously worked as a Case Manager in the Housing Department, the agency knew me and my commitment to the cause. My work history and passion for running just made the job a natural fit. I started early April, and it’s been a blast.
Having worked as a Case Manager, it’s no surprise that there are still myths and stereotypes surrounding HIV. Everywhere I go, people would ask me all types of questions. Some of the most common were “Who has HIV nowadays?” “Isn’t there a cure for HIV?” “Is it mostly men who get AIDS?” None of these questions are stupid ones, but they do point to a larger issue about the colossal amount of incorrect facts about HIV, especially in Georgia. Down here in the Bible Belt, there’s no question that anything regarding sexual health is taboo. Atlanta is certainly a city of diversity, but Georgia as a whole is still stuck in the past when it comes to reproductive and sexual health.
Luckily for me, all those years studying HIV and AIDS have prepared me for any type of question. In an attempt to make the HIV and AIDS crisis relevant to 2019, here are some notable facts:
1 . You can be HIV positive without having AIDS. HIV is the virus that infiltrates into a very specific immune cell called a T-cell. The virus then tricks the cell into mutating the person’s DNA into the virus’ DNA. T-cells are transformed into HIV viruses, which then continue to multiply. Overtime, without medication, a person’s T-cell count will drop, and once it hits 200 or less per milliliter of blood, the person is diagnosed with AIDS. Once a person has been diagnosed with AIDS, they live with that diagnosis forever, even if they rebuild their T-cell count with medication.
2 . There is no vaccine or cure for HIV. This is a big one. A few years ago, a well-known HIV medication called Truvada was deemed effective in preventing the spread of HIV, also known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). PrEP essentially blocks HIV from attacking T-cells, but only in people who are not already HIV-positive. Taking PrEP consistently can dramatically reduce the risk of getting HIV, but it can’t completely stop it.
3 . Why is there no cure for HIV? HIV is a tricky virus. It completely sabotages the immune system by infiltrating into T-cells, and then starts a mad dash to replicate itself has fast as possible. Each person living with HIV has their very own specific version of HIV, because of the way the virus meshes into the host’s DNA. Therefore, scientists have to find a way to cure hundreds of thousands of different strands of HIV, which is a very costly and time-consuming endeavor.
It is so important that we continue to educate the public on HIV and AIDS! This disease is not going away, and as long as it’s around, people will continue to get infected. However, we must not ostracize those who are living with HIV. The best thing you can do it support your local HIV Healthcare facilities, attend your local AIDS Walk, and correct the myths around HIV and AIDS. Together, we can end this epidemic!
Claire Nicolas is the founder of Running with Eclairs, a digital collaborative dedicated to helping small businesses run more efficiently.