HIV/AIDS Awareness: 30 years of Changes and Lessons

(KTSF by Kristen Kayan Choy)

2011 marks the 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS. Doctors and HIV patients have experienced change in the social perception and medical treatment of this deadly disease. Doctor Royce Lin specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment at the San Francisco General Hospital and Edwin Mah is an HIV patient who has lived with the disease for 20 years. Both men talk about their experience.

On June 5, 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported five cases of HIV infections among young gay men in Los Angeles. And, 30 years ago, HIV infection was an acute disease that quickly caused death. Mah remembers that people were frightened, doctors were helpless. He says “I had friends I would have brunch with, and a month later, I found they were dead. It was a very frightening time.”

The CDC defines HIV as a “human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.” The disease destroys a human’s specific blood cells of the immune system. Some people live with HIV and feel healthy for many years. When patients develop flu-like symptoms for an extended period of time, they enter the late stage of HIV infections, known as AIDS, and face serious opportunistic infections and certain cancers.

61-year-old Edwin Mah was diagnosed with HIV infection in 1986. He said he was afraid to tell people about his infection adding “The whole city is in panic mode, even the law firm that I was working, they had a board meeting with doctors, the health department.” Mah said they were asking questions including “Is the restroom safe, sharing cups safe, what actions they needed, what precautions they need, do people have to start wearing gloves ? ”

According to CDC, HIV can be spread by unprotected sex, sharing needles and syringes. Mothers infected with HIV, can pass HIV infection to their child during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding.

CDC reports an estimated that 1.2 million people aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the U.S. by the end of 2008.

Mah remembers there were times when doctors were handicapped in providing treatment for HIV, due to lack of understanding and research.

“At that time, the only thing that was on was only AZT. People at that time were like, almost, I called it, overdosing on AZT. I mean they were all experimenting this disease, they were taking 800 milligrams every four hours, people woke up at the middle of the night taking AZT,” Mah said.

Today, medical treatments have advanced and effectively prolonged patients’ survival rate.

Dr. Lin said, ” I often tell my patients that HIV infections are like hypertension. You take the medications everyday. The viral level can be controlled. Your immune system will recover and you can live like a normal person.”

(Copyright 2011 KTSF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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