What is HIV/AIDS?

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Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome affects the lives of 1.7 million new people each year, one of the most notable being Freddie Mercury. Freddie Mercury was the front man and singer of the British band Queen from 1971 until 1991. He was born the fifth of September 1946 in Zanzibar and moved to Middlesex, England when he was just 17 years old with his family. He had previously been in two bands before 1971 when the band Queen, which is the most famous band Mercury was in. Ever the energetic and eccentric person, he could captivate audiences with his stage persona. Queen’s success could be contributed to Mercury’s four octave vocal range, his stage persona, and the unique music that was created by the entire band. Queen would continue to reach record numbers on the radio charts in England and other parts of the UK and the US. As the band continued to progress and grow, they did more events including Live Aid in 1985. Live Aid was a huge international rock concert located in Wembley stadium in London, which was opened with Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The Live Aid rock concert was meant to raise funds for famine relief in Africa, and, by the end of the concert, raised $127 million. Headliners included: David Bowie, Mick Jagger, U2, Queen, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Elton John, and Phil Collins, and many more were included in this session. Live Aid premiered live at 2 locations: the Wembley stadium in London and in the JFK stadium in Philadelphia and was also broadcasted in 11 other different countries on July 13th, 1985. It is unconfirmed that between this time and 1987 when Freddie Mercury was diagnosed with HIV whom contracted it from his second partner, Jim Hutton. Mercury kept this diagnosis from the public until the day before he died from pneumonia as a complication due to AIDS. He waited to reveal his diagnosis from the pubic in order to protect those closest to him. What is this terrible disease that affects approximately 36.9 million people worldwide in 2017 alone?

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What is HIV/AIDS?

        HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus which breaks down one’s immune system, making it easier to become ill. Since the virus breaks down one’s immune System, it’s a lot harder to fight off any form of infection that comes into one’s body. HIV destroys CD4 cells (also known as T cells) in the body which helps fight off infections. AIDS, on the other hand, stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome which is a deadlier form of the HIV infection. It could take up to 10 years for a person not seeking treatment for HIV to turn the virus into AIDS. The difference between HIV and AIDS is, in order for the virus to be AIDS an infected person’s DC4 cells have to be dangerously low. HIV is one of the first steps of AIDS. HIV only turns into AIDS when one gets dangerous superinfections or have a very low (What’s the number?) of CD 4 cells. It’s the most dangerous stage of HIV and will ultimately lead to death after some time if infected and not treated.  Not every person with HIV with get AIDS and its not always easy to see the symptoms of HIV or AIDS either.


        According to Planned Parenthood 2018, HIV can affect anybody- about 1,000,000 people in the US are living with HIV, and more than 41,000 new infections happen every year (3) This virus that affects the immune system can be incredibly easy to catch just like any other sexually transmitted infections or STIs. There are several bodily fluids that carry the HIV virus including semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and breast milk. HIV can be spread though unprotected anal, vaginal, or oral sex. Microfiber tears in the body, sores and mucous membranes then transfer the virus between people. Pregnant mothers can transfer the virus to their children during pregnancy and childbirth or through breastfeeding their child after that.  People who share needles, whether for recreational use or other, can transfer infected blood to those who are uninfected. Even if someone tries to clean a needle with bleach, infected blood can still survive and pass into the next person who uses the needle. There is never a safe way or entirely fool proof way to share needles. 


The first signs of HIV can be easily confused with the common cold. According to HIV.gov 2017, a government website dedicated to spreading information and awareness about this infection, About 40% to 90% of people have flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection. Early infection is defined as HIV infection in the past six months (recent) and includes acute (very recent) infections (3) The symptoms found during this time are:

  • fever
  • chills
  • rash
  • night sweats
  • muscle aches,
  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • and mouth ulcers.

These symptoms can last as long as an average cold, from a few days to several weeks. Some people with the virus go months or even years sometimes without seeing any symptoms. People who are in the first stage of HIV infection can easily pass it on to others through unprotected sexual acts, childbirth, or needles. They are at an incredibly high infection rate because the virus is multiplying extremely quickly in their bodies. After the early stage of HIV infection, it moves into the clinical latency stage also known as the chronic HIV infection. During this time, some flu like symptoms may continue but the most notable symptoms that occurs in some people is the persistent swelling of lymph nodes. HIV remains in the body for up to 10 years at this stage if there is no antiretroviral therapy occurring. Following the clinical latency stage, the HIV virus may progress into AIDS. This is the most dangerous stage of HIV infection because the has nearly destroyed the immune system making the body more susceptible to opportunistic infections. Symptoms of AIDS include:

  • rapid weight loss
  • recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • pneumonia
  • red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders

Treatment options and Prevention

        The only way to know for certain if one has an STI or HIV is to get tested at a clinic. Many people opt to get tested at Planned Parenthood or at another kind of health center. According to Sanjana 2018, the Linkages Global Project’s main goal is to extend the ability of government key population organizations because HIV prevalence among key populations in much higher than among general population. The author also notes that transgender individuals are 49 times at risk, men who partake in sex with another man are 19 times higher, sex workers are 12 times more likely to catch HIV, and those who inject drugs are 28 times higher. The key populations are at an increased risk of HIV infection because of many things: stigma and discrimination prevent service uptake and limit the quality of provision, biological pathways- needle use, anal sex, alcohol/ substance abuse, violence and fear/ unequal power/ negotiation skills, etc. Education is incredibly important when it comes to HIV/ AIDS. If people are taught from a young age that safer sex is something that should be introduced and kept with, then maybe that will enable conversations to start in other parts of life. People shouldn’t be afraid to talk about sex because it is normal. This is what Sanjana’s organization is trying to do. Sanjana expressed two key services, prevalent in detecting and working through HIV/AIDS testing and diagnosis Where’s Your Bottle? and Closet Comfort, that are used to help normalize talking about HIV that also helps with testing in the countries Sanjana’s organization are focused in. She works on the Linkages Global Project which is active in 30 countries all throughout the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. They work with 150 local partners including FHI 360, the University of North Carolina, Intrahealth and PACT which is available as a teaching resource found on the University of Scranton campus.

Media representation

        Media’s representation of any event or illness can either help or hinder the public’s reaction of the item. In the 1980s, HIV/AIDS became an epidemic and information released to the public by the media was incredibly incorrect and harmful. According to MacIsaac 2017, most notably, in the first two decades of the epidemic, the media indicated that HIV/AIDS was a gay disease because the virus struck the gay communities of New York and Los Angeles first (1.)

        To this day, two beloved musicals represent the small amount of information known at the time. RENT tells the story of a group of New Yorkers struggling in the beginning of the 1990s with work, love, and the effects still lingering of the AIDS epidemic on their community. The musical focuses on: Mark; an aspiring film director, Roger; an HIV-positive musician, Benny, former roommate and now landlord of Mark and Roger, Tom Collins, a well-known professor who is in love with Angel and Angel, a possibly genderfluid dancer who is slowly dying of AIDS. By the end of the musical, Collins HIV has evolved into AIDS, Angel dies from complications due to AIDS and Mimi and Roger are still fighting their diagnosis with the medication, azidothymidine (AZT), provided to them. While the representation of RENT is not perfect, it helped to create a discussion that was very much needed and still is to this day.

        Falsettos, on the other hand, is based on a Jewish family based in New York near the end of the 1981 through the 1980s. Marvin, a gay man, lives a near perfect life with a caring wife, Trina, and son, Jason but their perfect life is completely rattled when Marvin breaks off the marriage and leaves Trina for a man named Whizzer. Trina becomes involved and eventually marries the family psychiatrist, Mendel, while their son, Jason, is stuck in the middle. As the show progresses, two new lesbian neighbors, Charlotte and Cordelia, move in and Marvin’s partner, Whizzer, is diagnosed with AIDS which brings the whole family together after they put their differences aside. The story brings together so many different people who have their own thing going on, to support Whizzer through his illness. At the end of the show, Whizzer dies but rthe audience isn’t sure if there are complications due to his diagnosis of AIDS or if he dies from something unrelated.

        Between the two shows, RENT shows the perspective of life that is harsh and cold. There are small glimmers of hope that are exhibited only to be snuffed out. Fan favorite, Angel, dies without consultation and is used as a plot device as fuel to progress the plot and have the other characters exhibit a change of behavior. With Angel’s death, one couple goes closer together while Roger and Mimi are driven further apart. Falsettos, on the other hand, is lighter hearted and has been explained as what some people wanted when diagnosed with HIV/ AIDS. A personal interview with Edmonds 2018, an HIV positive sailor, explained that when I was diagnosed with HIV after high school, my family treated me as a pariah. We used to be very open with each other, but it took me getting worse for them to treat me like their son again (Edmonds.) Falsettos has the scenes where the family is brought back together that really makes a difference in many people. I bought my family tickets to see Falsettos when I came back mainland after being stationed for six months when I moved into the next stage of my HIV diagnosis. I don’t know if the show helped but it certainly made me feel better (Edmonds.) He related his own personal story with a show that has been influential on many.


This topic is incredibly important to many people I’ve interacted with over the years. I’ve met many people who lost loved ones to during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. When the AIDS crisis developed, those in power such as Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush didn’t do enough for the research of the disease. As I was researching this topic two separate pictures, one of David Wonjnarowicz and the other of Duane Kearns Puryear, kept popping up in my newsfeeds. The first photo was a picture of Wonjnarowicz’s back with the words, If I die of AIDS- forget burial- just drop my body on the steps of the F.D.A. painted on the back of a leather jacket with a pink triangle, a usual sign to signal someone who is gay. The second photo depicted a young man possibly in his early to late 20s with dark curly hair wearing a white SWA sweatshirt. He is holding a sign with the writing saying, My name is Duane Kearns Puryear. I was born on December 20, 1964. I was diagnosed with AIDS on September 7, 1987 at 4:45 pm. I was 22 years old. Sometimes, it makes me very sad. I made this panel myself. If you are reading it, I am dead  These two photos have worried me, surely the government would have done something to help those who are affected? It turns out that the government didn’t bother trying to help those people. Due to the government’s ignorance, the world lost an entire generation of LGBT people who could have made a difference in this world.

Now a days, teenagers don’t know a lot about HIV/AIDS. According to Farid-ul-Hasnain 2009, access and exposure to appropriate HIV/AIDS information and discussing it with others has the potential positively to impact knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and sexual practices. Still, youth populations are poorly informed in Pakistan due to limited access to information about sexual and reproductive health matters, as both parents and the school system are reluctant to fulfil this obligation due to the sensitivity of the subject (Farid-ul-Hasnain. 5.) Even now, there is a lot of information out there on the internet. Many people don’t know how to access it, discuss it, and have a mature conversation about it. I never had a discussion with someone about things like STIs and sex when I was younger; the conversation was always deemed too inappropriate for someone my age.  Everything that I’ve learned about HIV/AIDS, I have learned on my own. I’ve learned from talking to people and doing research. My interest into Freddie Mercury’s life and watching many documentaries about him over the years, lead me to possibly wanting to work with who are affected by this virus. Those people who are affected by HIV/AIDS find them to be a death sentence. Those people believe that they are unworthy of love, or that there not worth people sticking around for. It is our job as future counselors to be there for people who have received this life sentence. We are there to inform and talk to them to let them know they are not alone in their struggles. Approximately 1,000,000 people in the United States are affected by HIV/AIDS; that is an approximate 1,000,000 people who needs someone there for them. Initializing a conversation with someone could be all that person needs to succeed in their diagnosis of HIV/AIDS.

        It takes a lot to adjust to a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. Just because HIV/AIDS is a serious diagnosis, doesn’t mean that it needs to be a death sentence for those affected. People who are affected have to change their whole way of life and thinking in order to stay afloat in those difficult times. Symptoms can begin as if a flu that lasts from a few days to several weeks. HIV can only be spread by unprotected oral, virginal and anal sex, sharing needles or through childbirth. Testing is incredibly important, and one can get tested in any sex clinic, or Planned Parenthood. Remembering that undetectable equals untransmutable is incredibly important, which means if those who are doing the testing cannot find anything, then you’re most likely clean.

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What is HIV/AIDS?. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from

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